The HSE's chief clinical officer has acknowledged that the country is in the middle of another wave of Covid-19 driven by the BA4 and BA5 sub variants which has led some hospitals to impose visitor restrictions.
Dr Colm Henry said the sub variants now account for 90 per cent of cases and the previous protection from reinfection has gone.
Previously people who had contracted the virus had a natural immunity from reinfection, but the new sub variants do not offer that protection, he told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
The virus was no longer seasonal “this is a virus for all seasons”, he said. While vaccination offered long term protection against serious illness, hospitalisation, ICU and death, if enough people get infected it meant that there would be increased hospitalisations.
Hospitals were under “considerable pressure” with two – Kerry and Beaumont introducing visitor restrictions. This year there were record high attendances at emergency departments which were unusual for summer and were more likely in the middle of winter, explained Dr Henry.
Long before Covid hospitals under pressure would have conducted risk assessment and if necessary introduced restrictions, he said. Given the high level of presentations at present, hospitals would have to take whatever measures they deemed necessary and in some cases this could result in cancelled operations.
Dr Henry said that the HSE had an emergency response plan in place which included testing facilities and capacity in hospitals, intensive care units and in the community. In February the country had moved from population based mass testing to a mitigation approach to protect vulnerable groups and settings.
If Ireland followed the same pattern as Portugal then the wave would be six weeks after which it would plateau, he said.