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Covid-19: Ronan Glynn says virus 'out of control' amid further warnings of pressure on hospitals

The deputy CMO said the positive test rate is plateauing at “an extremely high level”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
Image: PA

Updated Wed 12:12 PM

DR RONAN GLYNN says the Covid-19 pandemic is “out of control” in Ireland and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) may have to recommend measures to clamp down on the spread of the virus.

The deputy chief medical officer said the Covid-19 positive test rate is plateauing at “an extremely high level” of around 20% in the community.

“We do have a pandemic that’s out of control in this country at the moment. There’s no there’s no getting away from that. And that’s the situation across every country in Europe at the moment,” Dr Glynn said on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme.

Dr Glynn said if there is further disimprovement in the trajectory of the disease, then NPHET will have to make recommendations to address those concerns.

“We’ll just have to see where we are in a week/10 days time and, if necessary, provide further advice at that point,” he said.

Dr Glynn said that the Department of Health’s first priority is to try to prevent as many people as possible from getting sick and as many vulnerable people as possible from ending up hospitalised and dying.

“Vaccines have been an enormous step forward in that regard. And despite the very high levels of disease that we’re seeing at the moment, we are seeing much fewer of those cases translate into serious hospitalisations and ICU than mortality,” he said.

Glynn said the Irish population has been “phenomenal” in listening to public health experts and getting vaccinated.

Hospitals under pressure

HSE CEO Paul Reid said hospitals across the country are now under ‘very serious pressure’ due to the high level of Covid-19 in the community.

In an update to the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning, Reid said Ireland is now “firmly in the midst of a fourth surge in Covid-19 infections”.

“The entire health system, both acute hospitals and community are now under very serious pressure,” he said.

Reid said the HSE has had to take immediate measures in response to hospital and ICU pressures, including the short-term prioritisation of unscheduled care, and increasing surge capacity through providing additional beds, particularly in ICU. He said the system can surge to 350 ICU beds. 

“I know that the resurgence of the virus, and the response now required, will place even more pressure on staff,” he told the committee.

Reid explained to the committee that the winter season in any year presents additional challenges to health systems, but theses pressures are now “compounded by the massive increase in Covid-19 infections we are currently experiencing”.

He said this rise in cases is leading to presentations in emergency departments and onwards to wards and intensive care units.

“Emergency Departments continue to operate distinct pathways of care for Covid and non-Covid patients, and this places a huge demand on staffing and space available,” he said.

Reid told the committee that a consequence of the significant rise in hospital attendances through emergency departments has been the necessity to relieve the overall pressure on hospitals by evaluating planned procedures and cancelling less urgent appointments for both day cases and in-patients.

He said the number of cancellations and non-booking of planned surgery has been growing due to the growing incidence of Covid-19 in hospitals.

He said the HSE’s winter plan will focus on avoidance of hospital admittance unless absolutely necessary, patient flow through hospitals, and safe and timely departure of patients from hospital.

The use of private hospitals where required to increase capacity in the short-term is part of the plan, he said.

Testing and boosters

Reid said the scale of people being tested for Covid-19 in Ireland is “phenomenal”, compared with the population.

“We now, over the past seven days, have 210,000 PCR lab tests completed in our labs,” he told the Sinn Fein TD.

“We had our highest day ever just two days ago, with 26,000 tests in the community.”

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He said that more than one million PCR tests have been completed in the last six to seven weeks, but insisted that extra staff are being deployed and the testing service expanded with help from private companies.

Mr Reid said he does accept there have been delays amid a spike in demand.

“I want to fully acknowledge the pressure and demand that’s on it and the delays people will experience,” he said.

But he called on anyone who has symptoms and feels they need to have a test to restrict their movements.

Reid also provided an update on the rollout of the Covid-19 booster vaccination programme. To date, more than 630,000 boosters have been administered.

He said the over 80s and long-term care groups are “substantially complete” and more than half of over 70s (190,000 people) have received their jab. Among the over 60s, 43,000 boosters have been administered. 

The European Union health agency today called on member states to “urgently” introduce anti-Covid measures to reduce the potentially “very high” burden the disease will have in December and January.

The director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, recommended Covid booster shots for all adults over the age of 18, “with a priority for people above 40 years old”.

The agency also urged countries to increase their overall vaccination rates, especially those with low uptake. 

With reporting from Céimin Burke, PA and AFP

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