Public health officials have warned that coronavirus cases have been under-reported by thousands in recent days, suggesting the fast-growing outbreak has worsened even more rapidly than figures show.
More than 9,000 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have yet to been added to the official tally of confirmed cases, the National Public Health Emergency Team said. A day earlier it had estimated the number of positive tests still pending registration at just 4,000.
The country has gone from having the lowest infection rate in the European Union just two weeks ago to having the fastest rate of deterioration, after shops and large parts of the hospitality sector were allowed to reopen for most of December.
A very large volume of positive tests since Christmas has led to a delay in positive swabs being formally confirmed as new individual cases.
On Friday, 1,754 cases were confirmed, surpassing 1,500 daily cases for the fourth day in a row, with Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid describing the virus as “rampant”. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Our health system will not continue to cope with this level of impact.”
HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry told The Irish Times that measures to control the virus were impacting the hospital sector already. “There are over 400 beds out of commission in recent days,” he said, due to infection-prevention measures “related in many cases to Covid-19 and, secondly, inability to staff beds” because staff have Covid-19 or are deemed a close contact.
Government sources expressed the hope that case numbers would stabilise and begin to come down in the coming days, and said that full Level 5 measures should be given a chance to work before any further changes were considered. “We’ve got to let that happen and see what the effect of that is, while ramping up the delivery of vaccine,” Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said.
However, other sources said further measures similar to those imposed in March, such as further curtailing retail, schools and construction, could not be ruled out if the disease was not brought under control.
It comes after the Government said the closure of the State’s pre-school programme would be extended to January 11th, in line with the new reopening date for schools. However, creches can continue to operate as planned in order to provide childcare, especially to priority groups. – Additional reporting: Reuters