The healthcare system “will not continue to cope” with the high levels of coronavirus cases, the chief medical officer has warned.
Eleven further deaths and 1,754 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the Republic on Friday, with Dr Tony Holohan concerned at the rapidly increasing numbers in hospital.
Dr Holohan said between 50 and 70 people with the disease are entering the hospital system every day. “Unfortunately, we expect this to get worse before it gets better. Our health system will not continue to cope with this level of impact,” he said.
The latest figures show more than 500 people are in hospital with Covid-19, with 50 in intensive care.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said the State's test and tracing systems are playing “catch up” after delays over the Christmas period, placing significant pressure on reporting.
Prof Philip Nolan, a Nphet member, said more than 9,000 additional new cases will be reported over the coming days. “The reporting delay does not affect case management or contact tracing or our overall monitoring and modelling of the pandemic,” he said.
Friday's update means there has now been a total of 2,248 coronavirus-related deaths in the State.
Of the new cases, 64 per cent are in people aged under 45, with 523 cases located in Dublin, 296 in Cork, 180 in Galway, 104 in Mayo, 94 in Kerry and the remaining 557 spread across all other counties.
Counties Monaghan and Donegal have the highest infection rates in the State.
In Monaghan, the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population is 581.6, and in Donegal it stands at 552.2. The lowest rate is in Tipperary at 138.5.
The latest figures come as the head of the HSE said Covid-19 is now rampant in Irish communities.
Paul Reid said a whole set of “worst-case scenarios” have come together to create “explosive impacts”.
“The virus is absolutely rampant now in the community, we know that for a fact,” he said.
“Everybody is extremely high risk now of contracting the virus. We really need our vulnerable groups to be on our highest guard, everybody. There’s no doubt our health service is on what we would call high alert.”
He urged the public to stay at home and adhere to public health advice.
“We really need everybody to take the real appropriate actions that we’re calling out to everybody to do, which in essence is retract. Retract back to our homes, reduce our contacts drastically and really protect ourselves in the coming days and weeks.”
His remarks come against the backdrop of soaring case numbers, rising intensive care levels and deaths linked to the disease.
Mr Reid said: “The real picture over the last few days is most likely getting close to 3,000 cases per day.
“That’s the extent of the virus that we’re dealing with. So, when we get to these levels it has a severe impact across a whole set of areas, not just our systems, the health service, and the volume that any system can cope with.”
We have very high levels of community transmission of #COVID19
We find, test and trace to isolate cases/restrict contacts as CONTAINMENT or ‘control’ actions.
With the disease now not in control, we focus our public health actions on MITIGATION . https://t.co/o0YrfPTPxM
— Dr Tony Holohan (@CMOIreland) January 1, 2021
He added that 35,000 swabs had been taken on New Year’s Eve alone.
Asked whether the HSE’s decision not to test close contacts for the virus was a sign the system had failed, Mr Reid said it was not and that they had to make the decision to “prioritise for the most symptomatic people” as the demand for testing soared.
People who are close contacts of positive cases are still being asked to restrict their movements for 14 days.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said public health actions had moved from containment to mitigation because the disease is no longer in control.
He tweeted: “We have very high levels of community transmission of #Covid19. We find, test and trace to isolate cases/restrict contacts as CONTAINMENT or ‘control’ actions. With the disease now not in control, we focus our public health actions on MITIGATION.”
He said mitigation of the virus means focusing testing on the symptomatic; asking those with symptoms, waiting for a test result or who have tested positive to self-isolate for 10 days; advising close contacts to restrict movements for 14 days; and asking all others to stay at home.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Foreign Affairs warned it may be necessary to extend Level 5 restrictions past the end of January.
Simon Coveney described the challenge ahead of trying to tackle the latest wave as a “significant one”.
“We have taken the decision in a way that’s consistent with Nphet to move to a full Level 5 set of restrictions until the end of January and it may be necessary to go even beyond that,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme.
Mr Coveney rejected claims that the reopening of hospitality and allowing home visits in December was a mistake and caused the surge in Covid-19 cases.
The Fine Gael minister said it was a “misreading” of the situation to suggest there was a divide between Nphet and the Government.
“The pace of the third wave of the spread of this virus has taken everybody by surprise,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
He said the relationship between Government and Nphet, and the decisions that have been made in the back of that relationship, by and large, have saved many many lives and have kept the spread of the virus under control where possible.
“Of course, there have been some mistakes made, but we are now in the teeth of a third wave and Nphet and Government are working together, but Government must make decisions,” Mr Coveney said, adding Nphet’s advice is taken seriously by ministers. – Additional reporting: PA