Holohan ‘little bit worried’ about rise in ICU admissions

Health experts are a “little bit worried” about an increase in coronavirus admissions to intensive care, the chief medical officer for Ireland has said.

At the daily Covid-19 briefing, Dr Tony Holohan also stood firm on advising that the current social distancing measure remains at two metres.

Dr Holohan also said he did not favour quickening the pace of Ireland’s lockdown exit plan or bringing certain measures forward from later phases.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

Those comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that some measures may be introduced ahead of schedule if the virus transmission rate remained low.

On Wednesday, it was announced that there had been five new ICU admissions and 15 new general hospital admissions in 24 hours – an increase on recent daily figures.

Dr Holohan said it would not be possible to determine if that was a trend or just a statistical blip, without monitoring figures for a number of days.

“We’re going to watch that, we’re a little bit worried about that,” he told the daily National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) media briefing.

The chief medical officer stressed that the increases were unlikely to be linked to the first easing of lockdown restrictions on May 18, as those admitted recently were likely to have been infected before that date.

Earlier on Wednesday, health minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that the reproduction rate of the virus – the number of people an infected person infects – remained low, at between 0.4 and 0.5.

He said that provided grounds for “cautious optimism”.

At the NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan insisted the team’s advice on the recommended social distancing measure being two metres remained.

The CMO was asked about the potential to reduce the distance, potentially to one metre, during a Cabinet meeting earlier in Wednesday.

A number of sectors have highlighted the potential economic and societal benefits of a reduction.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Dr Holohan said NPHET would keep the two metre social distancing guidance under review (Brian Lawless/PA)</figcaption>
Dr Holohan said NPHET would keep the two metre social distancing guidance under review (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Holohan said NPHET’s guidance was based solely on an assessment of the risk to public health.

The CMO said the Cabinet exchanges had been “straightforward” and rejected a suggestion that efforts had been made to “persuade” him to change his stance on two metres.

“We’re clear on the advice that we have at the moment that it represents, we think, a reasonable interpretation of the evidence and a precautionary approach to its application,” he said.

“And we think it’s the right measure for now. In relation to every piece of advice, and not just this one, we keep all this under review.

“It is likely that there’s ongoing research happening in the world in relation to the impact of all of these measures on the transmission of this infection and as new information becomes available to us from that evidence and that research and from practice in countries around the world, we will apply that and, if that takes us towards a change then we will make change, but we don’t think we should be negotiating on a change in our advice.”

On the prospect of fast-tracking aspects of the lockdown exit plan, Dr Holohan said: “We don’t in broad terms think that either the intervals between the phases of three weeks or the measures broadly that we have identified for each of the individual phases, that we have any reason to believe that we need to make changes in relation to those.”

The CMO said he understood why people were advocating for a faster approach.

He said the NPHET advice was based purely on public health risks and he acknowledged that Government would need to take account of other factors when making decisions on the plan’s implementation.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar told TDs the timetable for lifting some restrictions may be brought forward.

“If the numbers are still going in the right direction, we can have some confidence in bringing forward some of the things in the later phases to earlier,” he said.