The Irish health system is under “inconceivable strain”, one of the country’s top health officials has warned.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the service is facing the “highest level of impact and risk we’ve had to manage since Covid landed here”.
He told a briefing on Thursday: “The situation in our hospitals and healthcare systems overall is very serious,” as they struggle to deliver both regular care and respond to the pressures of the fourth wave of the virus.
Mr Reid warned that services will face “unyielding and unrelenting strain over the next while”.
In response to warnings from health officials, the Government earlier this week announced fresh measures in a bid to reverse the surging number of cases.
Pubs, nightclubs and restaurants must now close at midnight, and people are being urged to work from home from Friday if they can.
There will also be a more widespread use of antigen testing.
Currently, 643 people are in hospital with Covid-19 – a 20 per cent increase over the last week.
The number of people in intensive care is now 118.
Mr Reid warned that unvaccinated people continue to make up a disproportionate share of intensive care patients.
Of the 476 patients in ICU between June 27 and November 13, 61 per cent were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, Mr Reid told reporters.
“I state it because our clinical teams are asking us to state it very clearly,” he said.
Pressures caused by treating Covid-19 patients will lead to the cancelling and curtailment of elective care in some of the largest hospitals, Mr Reid warned.
Hospitals are currently building up surge capacity in intensive care beds, Mr Reid said.
He also said the HSE will again be relying on private hospitals to boost capacity.
“We’re appealing again to the public not to attend emergency departments unless there is an emergency need,” he added.
The Government has faced questions about what opposition politicians have labelled a sluggish rollout of the booster programme.
WATCH: COVID-19 update from Dr. Steevens' Hospital https://t.co/X49kACFAFQ
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) November 18, 2021
Mr Reid said the capacity of vaccination centres is being expanded, but he warned the HSE’s resources are currently significantly stretched.
Damien McCallion, HSE national director of the Covid vaccination programme, confirmed the organisation has reached an agreement with a private testing company at Dublin Airport.
He also said new staff are being recruited for community test centres, which are processing around 150,000 swabs each week.
Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team have said they will continue to monitor the situation, but ministers have warned further restrictions cannot be ruled out.
On Wednesday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said there could be 200,000 Covid-19 infections in December – but this could be prevented.
Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at the HSE, said the grim situation facing the health system could be reversed.
“We are not all helpless bystanders. We all can and should play our part,” he said.