Ireland must 'get back to basics' to halt Covid surge

Ireland Must 'Get Back To Basics' To Halt Covid Surge
Health officials rejected suggestions that the double bank holiday was in retrospect a mistake, but urged caution. Photo: Getty Images
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By Dominic McGrath, PA

Ireland must “get back to basics” on mask-wearing and vaccinations in order to halt a surge in Covid-19 cases, the chief of the heath service has warned, as case numbers and hospitalisations climb upwards.

Hospitals and nursing homes are facing major Covid-19 pressures ahead of a busy St Patrick’s Day weekend, which will see the return of full festivities for the first time since the pandemic began.


The vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions, including mandatory mask-wearing, lifted at the end of February.

However, HSE chief Paul Reid warned that the virus has not gone away and urged people to follow public health advice, to “get back to basics” on mask-wearing, and to get vaccinated and boosted.


Covid-19, he said, is “still highly transmissible in our communities at the moment”.

“It is a double weekend for us, at a time when our system is under huge pressure,” HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor warned.

Mask up

Officials stopped short of demanding that people mask up during the long weekend, but stressed that it would be a sensible measure to take.

“People make their own risk assessments,” HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said.


“Obviously, there are groups of people, those who are more vulnerable, those who are older, we’re certainly advising them to consider strongly wearing a mask in any setting where they may be more exposed to the virus, and there’s a lot of it out there at the moment.

“And certainly if you’re going to any setting where there’s that high degree of congestion, lots of people gathering together, maybe the wiser thing to do, to wear a mask than to not wear one.


“It’s not compulsory, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to exercise judgment and wear one.”

The warnings come amid increasing concern about the situation in hospitals and emergency departments.

There are 1,082 patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals, an increase of more than 30 per cent in a week and the highest figure this year so far. 44 people are in ICU with the virus.

Hospitals are also tackling a spike in the people of people attending emergency departments.

Emergency departments saw 28,160 patients last week, a 31 per cent increase compared with the same time last year.

Of them, nearly 7,000 patients were admitted into hospital.

“Admissions are running at quite a high level, with a high level of attendance,” Ms O’Connor said.

Mr Reid said that it was not his intention to cause “undue alarm”.

Instead, he stressed that it was important to be aware of the pressures the health system is under, with thousands of staff out and few beds unfilled.

In all, 4,102 HSE staff are out, while 940 staff are absent from nursing homes.

Bank holiday mistake?

“As of this morning, we have 248 beds closed. We have 95 vacant beds this afternoon in our acute hospital system,” Ms O’Connor said.

“Heading into a four-day bank holiday weekend – it is not a lot really and our sites this morning have been under a lot of pressure.”

Officials rejected any suggestion that the double bank holiday was, in retrospect, a mistake.

“The reality of Covid and predictability is something that we know we can’t bank on predictability and how you plan ahead for bank holiday weekends,” Mr Reid said.

“We are pleased that society has moved on, and we would have been supportive of that, obviously, because Covid is certainly less severe in terms of illness and that’s what we’re seeing both in hospital.

“The message from us today is a combination of the high transmissibility levels in the community now, along with the service demands, are putting the pressure on us.

“It was the same last weekend actually. It’s just our concern for this weekend is based on it being a bank holiday and more activity, and more presentations.”

Ms O’Connor said that it had been impossible to predict the extreme pressures hospitals would be under coming into the St Patrick’s Day long weekend.

“I’m not sure that we could have foreseen the level of activity that we have seen in the last couple of weeks really. It’s really quite extraordinarily high. And staying so high, coupled with very high Covid numbers,” she said.

Omicron sub-variant

Mr Henry confirmed that the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant now makes up about 90 per cent of all cases tested.

He also indicated that it was not entirely clear where the Covid-19 data goes from here, pointing to “large uncertainty”.

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While there is a high degree of natural immunity built up, he said that re-infection remained possible – especially with the new sub-variant.

“People are thankfully mixing freely now and the restrictions were lifted in February 28th. There are multiple opportunities for the virus to transmit out there in the community.

“However, there’s still levers we can pull, there still actions we can take and the choices we can make that can reduce transmission.”

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