Coronavirus: 14,096 new cases and 1,081 patients in hospital, including 44 in ICU

As of 8am today, there are 1,081 Covid-19 patients in hospital.

A FURTHER 14,096 positive antigen and PCR test results have been reported by public health officials. 

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has been notified of 5,452 PCR-confirmed Covid cases. 8,644 people also registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal. 

As of 8am today, 1,081 patients are in hospital with Covid-19. 44 of these are in intensive care.

The HSE emphasised earlier that hospitals and nursing homes are still facing major Covid-19 pressures ahead of a busy St Patrick’s Day weekend. 

St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been impacted by Covid-19 over the past two years but many major events are planned for 2022 as almost all pandemic restrictions have been lifted. 

But health officials today warned that doctors and nurses are facing extraordinary challenges at hospitals around the country. 

HSE CEO Paul Reid has warned that Covid-19 has not gone away and urged people to follow public health advice, as new data points to a healthcare system coping with “extreme” demands.

He urged people to “get back to basics” on mask-wearing and to get vaccinated and boosted.

Covid-19, he said, is “still highly transmissible in our communities at the moment”.

“It is a double weekend for us, at a time when our system is under huge pressure,” HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor warned.

The next reporting of the Covid-19 case numbers will be next Monday 21 March, the HSE said, in light of the bank holiday weekend.

However, Professor Philip Nolan said today that the current spike in cases is nothing to be worried about.

Speaking in Washington, Nolan said: “We are seeing higher numbers of infections, but what we’re also seeing is the impact of vaccinations in that even though we are seeing large numbers of infections and the virus transmitting as sort of an exit wave of the pandemic, if I can put it that way, it’s not translating into serious harm, it’s not translating into people in intensive care requiring ventilation in anything like it did in the previous waves.”

“To a certain extent, this is expected and the important thing to watch here is the level of serious illness or harm. There’s nothing in the data at the moment to suggest anything other than the situation is actually improving.”

Nolan said NPHET still strongly advises people to still use basic measures like mask wearing on public transport, especially those who are vulnerable. 

“We really need to encourage people who haven’t been boosted to be boosted. That’s going to offer them really significant additional protections,” he said. 

Speaking in Washington, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “In respect of hospitals, my understanding is that quite a number of those, about 50%, are people who have arrived into hospital for other ailments but are diagnosed with Covid once inside.

“So that really is more on the hospitals organisation and configuration… because of isolation. It’s real pressure on our hospitals.”

Martin said the numbers in ICU are not rising as we speak and that he has been in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and the Minister for Health, adding that the situation will be kept “under watch and review”.

“I’ve always been of the view and the chief medical officer has advised that we should wear masks where appropriate, particular in retail and public transport and in large indoor gatherings,” he said. 

I think what we are looking at to be fair is far more transmissible variants of Covid-19 and it’s much more difficult to avoid than maybe earlier variants and also there may be some waning around the infection part of the vaccines but the good news is that the vaccines are still very effective at preventing serious illness arising from Covid.

He added that there were no considerations to bring back any Covid-19 restrictions by the government and he encouraged people to enjoy St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Officials stopped short of demanding that people mask up during the long weekend, but stressed that it would be a sensible measure to take.

“People make their own risk assessments,” HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said.

“Obviously, there are groups of people, those who are more vulnerable, those who are older, we’re certainly advising them to consider strongly wearing a mask in any setting where they may be more exposed to the virus, and there’s a lot of it out there at the moment.

“And certainly if you’re going to any setting where there’s that high degree of congestion, lots of people gathering together, maybe the wiser thing to do, to wear a mask than to not wear one.

“It’s not compulsory, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to exercise judgment and wear one.”

Increasing concern

The warnings come amid increasing concern about the situation in hospitals and emergency departments.

There are 1,082 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, an increase of more than 30% in a week and the highest figure this year so far. 44 people are in ICU with the virus.

It comes as hospitals also tackle a spike in the people of people attending emergency departments.

Emergency departments saw 28,160 patients last week, a 31% increase compared with the same time last year.

Of them, nearly 7,000 patients were admitted into hospital.

“Admissions are running at quite a high level, with a high level of attendance,” O’Connor said.

Reid said that it was not his intention to cause “undue alarm”.

Instead, he stressed that it was important to be aware of the pressures the health system is under, with thousands of staff out and few beds unfilled.

In all, 4,102 HSE staff are out, while 940 staff are absent from nursing homes.

“As of this morning, we have 248 beds closed. We have 95 vacant beds this afternoon in our acute hospital system.

“Heading into a four-day bank holiday weekend – it is not a lot really and our sites this morning have been under a lot of pressure,” O’Connor said.

Bank holiday weekend

Officials rejected any suggestion that the double bank holiday was, in retrospect, a mistake.

“The reality of Covid and predictability is something that we know we can’t bank on predictability and how you plan ahead for bank holiday weekends,” Reid said.

We are pleased that society has moved on, and we would have been supportive of that, obviously, because Covid is certainly less severe in terms of illness and that’s what we’re seeing both in hospital.

“The message from us today is a combination of the high transmissibility levels in the community now, along with the service demands, are putting the pressure on us.

“It was the same last weekend actually. It’s just our concern for this weekend is based on it being a bank holiday and more activity, and more presentations.”

O’Connor said that it had been impossible to predict the extreme pressures hospitals would be under coming into the St Patrick’s Day long weekend.

“I’m not sure that we could have foreseen the level of activity that we have seen in the last couple of weeks really. It’s really quite extraordinarily high. And staying so high, coupled with very high Covid numbers,” she said.

Henry confirmed that the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant now makes up about 90% of all cases tested.

He also indicated that it was not entirely clear where the Covid-19 data goes from here, pointing to “large uncertainty”.

While there is a high degree of natural immunity built up, he said that re-infection remained possible – especially with the new sub-variant.

“People are thankfully mixing freely now and the restrictions were lifted in February 28. There are multiple opportunities for the virus to transmit out there in the community.

“However, there’s still levers we can pull, there still actions we can take and the choices we can make that can reduce transmission.”

With reporting from Christina Finn and Orla Dwyer.

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