Ireland is bracing for 9,000 more Covid cases to be added to the official tally as the system struggles to handle a surge in positive results, with health officials warning hospitals will not be able to cope if the trend continues.
The sharp rise in positive results led to delays in formal reporting, said Professor Philip Nolan from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), though he said it “does not affect case management or contact tracing or our overall monitoring and modelling of the pandemic”.
On Thursday, NPHET estimated the number of positive tests still pending registration was 4,000, more than doubling to 9,000 the following day.
On Friday, Ireland formally reported a daily record 1,754 confirmed cases, surpassing 1,500 daily cases for the fourth day in a row.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the biggest worry was the rapid rise in hospitalisations. “We are now admitting between 50 to 70 people a day to our hospital system. Unfortunately, we expect this to get worse before it gets better. Our health system will not continue to cope with this level of impact.”
“We have also seen a significant increase in positive laboratory tests in recent days reflecting a true increase in the incidence of the disease as well as the delay in people coming forward for testing over the Christmas period. As our systems catch up with these effects it places significant pressure on our reporting system.”
On New Year’s Eve, Ireland entered a level-five lockdown, with non-essential shops closing, a 5km travel limit, restrictions on household gatherings and schools staying closed.
Paul Reid, CEO of the Health Service Executive (HSE), told RTÉ Radio 1: “The virus is absolutely rampant now in the community. Everybody is at extreme risk of contracting the virus.”
The health system was not built to handle a pandemic, and “can’t cope” with the number of tests being conducted, he said. Symptomatic cases are now being prioritised as demand for tests soars.
“The real picture over the last few days is most likely getting close to 3,000 cases per day and that’s the extent of the virus that we’re dealing with,” he said. “When we get to these levels, it has a severe impact across a whole set of areas, not just our systems, the health service, and the volume that any system can cope with.”
Colm Henry, the chief clinical officer at the HSE, urged everyone to treat others as if they had the virus, because the its prevalence was “increasing exponentially”. “We know the virus is out of control,” he said.
Ireland has gone from having the lowest infection rate in the European Union just two weeks ago to having the fastest rate of deterioration, after shops and large parts of the hospitality sector were allowed to reopen for most of December.
The 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population in Ireland went from 87 at the beginning of December to 321.3 at the end of the month, according to RTE. The death toll now stands at 2,248 with a total of 93,532 confirmed cases.
From Wednesday, stricter Covid testing measures will replace a ban on travellers from the UK, with passengers needing to show a negative test result in the previous three days in a bid to curb the spread of a more transmissible variant of the virus, foreign minister Simon Coveney said.