The widespread cancellation of hospital services is expected in the coming days as the heath system works to manage rates of Covid-19 hospital admissions “beyond any projections”.
The Irish Times reports that officials are considering halting daycase and other elective procedures, as happened during the first wave of the pandemic.
Political sources have also indicated that schools may remain closed next week due to the recent and “unsustainable” rise in Covid-19 infections.
Chief of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, said he was “extremely concerned” about the potential impact of the pandemic on the health service.
The HSE is looking at a range of options to ensure hospitals can operate safely amid the rise in infection, he said.
Mr Reid described rising rates of hospital and intensive care admissions, which have both doubled in a week, as “beyond any projections”.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, has warned that even if current lockdown measures are followed, there could be 1,300 Covid-19 patients in hospital and 300 in intensive care by the end of the month.
However, Mr Reid stressed the health service is “not overwhelmed” and surge capacity is not yet being used.
There were 643 free hospital beds — including 43 in intensive care — on Sunday morning, which Mr Reid described as “not too bad”.
On Sunday, 673 people were hospitalised with the virus — a rise of 86 per cent in one week.
With another 44 intensive care beds available in the private health sector, talks between the HSE and private hospitals on extra capacity are ongoing amid months of negotiation.
Mr Reid said the talks “moved forward” last week and the HSE is now finalising agreements with individual private hospitals on the provision of services.
It comes amid fears that the HSE may be unable to provide Covid-19 tests to people with symptoms due to demand, instead focusing on vulnerable groups.
A new daily record of 4,962 cases of the virus was confirmed on Sunday, pushing overall infection numbers beyond the 100,000 mark.
About 10 per cent of all cases confirmed throughout the 10-month pandemic have been reported in the past three days. Further soaring numbers are likely in the coming days, GP referrals have suggested.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan described Sunday’s numbers as “not only unsustainable for the healthcare system, but also a deeply concerning level of preventable sickness and suffering”.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn urged people to think “like it is March all over again”.
The Government and the Department of Education have said they “fully intend” to reopen schools as planned from January 11th, after last week extending the Christmas school holidays by three days to allow for people’s contacts to be minimised before children return.
Teachers' union officials say their members are deeply concerned about the record numbers of Covid-19 infections and will seek reassurances that it is safe for schools to reopen as planned.