Levels of interaction in December hit pre-pandemic levels, the chief medical officer (CMO) has said, and he called on people to stay at home to slash the high Covid-19 case numbers.
Dr Tony Holohan said Google mobility data centred around retail, grocery and pharmacy showed a noticeable spike when restrictions were eased in December.
He described it as “back to effectively pre-pandemic levels of socialisation “ and “back to summer levels of socialisation.” There is some evidence now around the role of the new variant identified in the UK in this rise, but he said the public health measures remain the same.
“The message is still the same, the message is stay at home. The virus, the UK variant still requires socialisation (to spread),” he said.
If people want to wear masks when outdoors in parks or other areas, he said this could also help slow the spread of the disease when worn properly. This is no official guidance at this time around this.
And as the HSE warn of looming staff shortages, Dr Holohan said the lack of childcare for healthcare workers will be considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
He said: “We will be working with the HSE on this.” Staff shortages have become a concern in recent days with about 3,500 staff off-duty for Covid reasons and the impact of schools remaining closed this week expected to add to that.
HSE Clinical Lead for Intensive Care Dr Michael Power said 1,300 nurses from other areas of care have been asked to return to ICU as the number of severely-ill Covid-19 patients continues to rise.
He said a buddy-system is being implemented so an experienced nurse will pair with a nurse who has previous ICU experience. Each ICU bed typically requires seven nurses.
Referring to the number of ICU beds now available, Dr Power said: “One week ago that was 282, then 292, now it is up to 302. There is on-going redeployment in the hospital system, we are very grateful for that.”
There has been a huge effort to finalise vaccination for frontline healthcare workers, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee Professor Karina Butler said.
Prof Butler was herself vaccinated earlier this week as a frontline worker in her role as paediatric infectious diseases specialist.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to give approval to the Oxford Astra/Zeneca vaccine by the end of the month, she said. This vaccine can be stored in normal fridges.
And Dr Holohan said contrary to fears expressed on social media staff showing symptoms of Covid-29 would not be expected to work in hospitals.
This comes as new guidelines for visiting nursing homes indicate staff shortages could mean an end to compassionate visits in some situations.
Issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre today, the document states: “Service providers will need to limit such critical and compassionate visiting to times when visiting can be effectively supported by available staff.”
The guidelines emphasise nursing homes should facilitate these visits where at all possible, and provide PPE to families.
Executive Director of advocacy group SAGE Sarah Lennon said: “I know there are huge staff shortages at the moment.
“The guidance doesn’t say nursing home visits are banned but it puts a heavy emphasis on the risks associated with nursing home visits at the moment.”
A further 4,929 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland today by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). There were also eight Covid-related deaths.
In total, there have been 2,352 Covid-related fatalities while there has been a total of 152,539 confirmed cases.
1,582 patients are in hospital receiving treatment for Covid-19 while 146 people are in intensive care. 21 people were admitted to intensive care units (ICU) while one person was discharged in the last 24 hours. 102 people were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours while 24 people have left.
In Dublin, 1,513 cases of Covid-19 cases were confirmed today, the highest in the country. This was followed by Cork at 695.
Limerick reported 320 cases and Wexford confirmed 305. Lastly, 225 cases were recorded in Galway while the remaining 1,871 cases are spread across all other counties.
A further breakdown of the cases shows:
- 2,250 cases are men and 2,641 are women
- 59% of cases are under 45 years of age
- The median age of confirmed cases is 39 years old
The national 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 of the population now stands at 1378.7 while in counties Monaghan, Louth, Limerick, the incidence rate is highest at 2687.9, 2319.9 and 2032.3 respectively.
Highest global infection rate
The cases follow a decision by the South/South West Hospital Group, which includes Cork University Hospital, to cancel all elective work.
Critically ill patients may be transferred between hospitals as the Covid-19 surge continues.
Earlier, the Taoiseach has defended the Government’s response to the pandemic after figures revealed Ireland has the world’s highest incidence of confirmed new Covid-19 cases per million people.
In the last week, Ireland has had 10,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus per million people, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University in the US.