Covid cases ‘expected to reach 4,000’ per day, but HSE recoils from new restrictions

The HSE is not calling for the reintroduction of restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 but everyone needed to examine their own behavior, its chief executive said.

Paul Reid expressed concern about the increase in the number of cases and said people hospitalized with the virus had a disproportionate impact on the healthcare system.

All indications were that the daily infection figures were likely to reach 4,000, he told RTÉ Radio’s Today show with Claire Byrne.

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he also expected the number of Covid cases to reach 4,000 today or tomorrow.

He said he could not rule out the introduction of new restrictions as it would be “unwise”, but no such restriction was planned because the “vaccine wall” was functioning.

Mr Varadkar added that the government was encouraging the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to investigate the use of a pill that halved the threat of serious illness from Covid.

Asked about it, Mr Reid said such treatment was a clinical issue for the HSE and the chief medical officer would lead the issue.

Mr. Reid pointed out that for every 1,000 cases, there were about 35 hospitalizations. At present, there have been 463 cases of Covid in hospital and 90 in intensive care, Mr Reid said.

Of the intensive care patients, half were on invasive ventilation. There were another 250-300 patients in “enhanced support” and others in high dependency units or services with supervised support.

“There are extremely sick people in the hospital. “

Mr Reid added that Children’s Health Ireland had reported an increase in emergency broadcasts for the first week of October from 8,500 to 11,600 between 2019 and this year.

This was mainly due to respiratory illnesses, not Covid, he said, and it was an indication of the winter season.

The winter plan for the health service had started, he added, although negotiations were underway regarding its funding.

Highlighting the impact on the wider healthcare system, he said the 90 intensive care beds currently occupied by Covid patients could have been used for surgeries.

In addition, general practitioners were under pressure, resulting in delayed care.

HSE acute services director Liam Woods also highlighted the pressure on hospitals, saying ten operations were canceled per day at each of the state’s 21 hospitals.

Mr Woods said the increase in emergency department attendance was due to difficulties accessing care in the community, especially in the over-75s category.

Asked about access to testing services, Mr Reid urged people to use the online self-referral service and called on anyone with symptoms to stay home, call their GP and get a reference for a test.

“We are managing, we are dealing with the numbers that we are seeing now. If necessary, the testing capacity could be increased, he added.

Absenteeism levels in health services were normally 4.5% to 5%, Mr Reid said, at present there was a Covid absenteeism rate of 2.7% separated from the levels usual.

Although 11,000 additional staff have been hired since the pandemic, staff forced to self-isolate because of Covid were putting pressure on the health service.

He said the recall campaign for healthcare workers would start this weekend and continue “at pace” next year. Some staff did not receive their second dose until late summer and that would be in early 2022 when it was six months, the recommended break before the booster was given.

On the issue of vaccine reluctance, Mr Reid said steady progress was being made and 1,500 to 2,000 people who had not initially taken the vaccine were registering each day while a series of NGOs and embassies were working to address the concerns of certain communities.

Ultimately, the message was “if you are not vaccinated you are at high risk,” he said. “Please come on. It is never too late, we will accompany you in the process of vaccination.

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