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Omicron is 'running rife in our communities' but has not yet peaked, HSE boss says

Paul Reid said the HSE is continuing to ramp up capacity for PCR testing as demand increases.

File photo of a HSE Covid testing centre
File photo of a HSE Covid testing centre
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Dec 28th 2021, 12:50 PM

OMICRON IS “RUNNING rife” in Ireland but has not yet reached a peak in cases “by any stretch”, the CEO of the HSE believes.

Paul Reid said this morning that it appears cases of the highly-transmissible variant may have peaked in some other countries but not yet in Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Reid said there is “no doubt now that the virus is absolutely running rife in our communities”.

“The simple message I can say to listeners this morning is if you think that you have Covid, it’s most likely that you have it.

“If you are going into gatherings of people, particularly indoors, the high chances are that a significant number of people in those gatherings may be transmitting.”

Reid said health officials are “gaining experience from what happens in other countries, whether it’s in the UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Canada, who are probably further ahead in the curve than ourselves”.

“It would seem to be that there’s a peak at some stage. We certainly aren’t at that by any stretch just yet,” he said.

Children aged five to 11 who are at high risk of severe illness from Covid-19, or live with someone high risk, can be registered for a vaccine from today.

Parents of children aged five to 11 who have a health condition that puts them at risk of severe illness from Covid-19 are being invited to register for vaccination.

Children who live with someone who has complex medical needs or who is immunocompromised can also be registered now.

All other children will be invited to register in January.

Parents can register online – to register, you need a PPS number, an Eircode, a mobile phone number and an email address. Alternatively, parents can call HSELive on 1800 700 700 to register their child over the phone.

Children who don’t have a PPS number can be vaccinated – their parents can register them on the phone.

Increased PCR demand

The Department of Health today confirmed an additional 9,006 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. As of 8am, 521 people were in hospital with the virus, 92 of whom are in intensive care.

There were 10,404 new cases on St Stephen’s Day and 13,765 on Christmas Day.

Reid today said Ireland is “coming out of the Delta wave and heading into the Omicron wave”.

“Coming out of the Delta wave, we were close to 6,000 hospital staff out with Covid-related sickness,” Reid said.

“That was down to just over 4,000 late last week. We would hope to see that come down but there’s no doubt we will start to see the impacts, as we are seeing across all sectors, of Covid – Omicron, in particular now – in relation to hospital staff,” he said.

Reid said the HSE is continuing to ramp up capacity for PCR testing as demand increases. 

“We are increasing capacity but the reality of it is, where the volume of the virus is now in the community, it diminishes its value as a control measure,” Reid said.

A real, important control measure now for people is if you think you have symptoms, isolate, seek a test. Yes, there are some delays at the moment but you can seek to book a test and we’re getting through a significant volume.

“The most important restriction that people can do is to isolate immediately if you have symptoms.”

When contacted by The Journal today, spokesperson for the HSE could not provide specifics on how PCR testing capacity is being increased.

They said all 41 test centres are open across the country today as normal (25 test centres were open on Christmas Day with reduced hours and 36 test centres were open on St Stephen’s Day).

People in various counties have experienced difficulties in booking tests in recent days with some counties showing no availability when individuals try to book a test. Walk-in testing is not currently available and people have to book an appointment in advance.

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The HSE spokesperson said that testing slots which are held for GPs or close contact referrals “may also be released over the course of the day so we advise people to check for testing appointments regularly”.

“If anyone gets a positive antigen test result they should self-isolate (stay in your room) and get a PCR test. If there are no test appointments available, they should check back later. Appointments may become available later in the day,” they added.

New advice for close contacts came into effect on 22 December – all close contacts, including those who are asymptomatic, can request free antigen tests.

Some 9.8 million tests for Covid-19 have been completed through the HSE since the start of the pandemic, including 231,606 in the last seven days.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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