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Covid-19: ICUs will be at capacity within a few days, says Taoiseach

Varadkar also said that construction sites that cannot implement social distancing should be shut down.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the total death toll from coronavirus is “impossible to predict”, but he would be surprised if the number of deaths stayed below 1,000. 

Varadkar also said that the country’s intensive care units (ICU) could reach capacity within a few days but that the health service is making an “unprecedented effort” to increase capacity. 

“We are only still learning about it. But if you take the average flu season in Ireland, there would usually be around 500 deaths, if you take a bad flu season in Ireland there would roughly be a thousand deaths,” Varadkar told reporters today. 

“It would be a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise, if the number of deaths at the end of this was less than a thousand. That’s just a rough idea of what we might be in for.

“Just like the flu season, those most at risk are older people, people who have chronic diseases. Often it’s the virus that is what affects them in the end.”

Ireland saw its biggest rise in deaths from Covid-19 in a single day after 10 new deaths were confirmed by the Department of Health last night. 

The death toll here has now more than doubled to 19, while the number of cases now stands at 1,819.

Data released by the Health Protection Services Centre yesterday showed that as of midnight, Tuesday 24 March, 25% of cases (340) have been hospitalised, and 47 cases have been admitted to ICU. 

Varadkar said an unprecedented effort is being made by the health service to tool up, recruit, and provide additional capacity. 

“As things stand, we have empty beds in our ICUs but just the way things are heading would indicate that our ICUs will be at capacity within a few days,” he said. 

But just as we’re seeing across Europe, just as we’re seeing in America now, just as we saw in China, there isn’t a health service in the world that is going to be able to tool up or scale-up as quickly as is necessary. 

“We’re going to be managing a very difficult situation, and everyone is going to be doing the best job they can” 

Social distancing 

Varadkar also said that construction sites that cannot implement social distancing should be shut down.

He said that “absolutely essential” construction work needs to continue, including health care facilities and pharmaceutical plants.

He added: “Even arguably housing for homeless people so that they are not in overcrowded accommodation, but it does need to be done by social distancing.

“That can never be done perfectly.

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“It’s not being done perfectly in the supermarkets, it’s not being done perfectly in other places, but it needs to be done to an acceptable extent that people are protected and the risk of the transmission of the virus is minimised.

“I’m glad the unions and the [Construction Industry Federation] are working together on this, but if there are sites that cannot comply, cannot implement social distancing for most people most of the time, then those sites will have to close.”

- With reporting from PA 

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Adam Daly

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