HSE boss Paul Reid has said plans are being made for the emergency phase of Covid-19 but he hopes it will never be reached.
He said he wants to assure people that the correct measures have been taken for the current delay phase – reducing transmission impact.
However, he also knows that people want to know about the preparations made for the next phase – the emergency phase.
“We are not there (the emergency phase) and I hope we never get there,” Mr Reid told a media briefing.
However, there is a contingency plan for any future scenario.
“That is why a Cabinet committee has been established and that is why a whole of government approach will be looking at any other scenarios that may emerge,” he said.
Mr Reid said they will be establishing clinical assessment hubs in the community where people can go with concerns or if they need to be tested based on public health advice.
Responding to concerns about homeless people and other vulnerable groups Mr Reid said special supports will be put in place for them.
He said the current phase is about reducing the impact of the virus and spreading the impact over a longer period.
Mr Reid urged the public to get behind the measures that include social distancing; reducing contacts in the community and at work and keeping an eye out for vulnerable people in the community.
Visiting restrictions will continue to be applied to hospitals and long term centres based on clinical risk.
Mr Reid said they are still very much in control of the situation in terms of what they can do.
But they also want to ask the public to do everything they are asking of them and support the measures put in place this week.
“We are now in a phase that we have been planning for since January and we are now implementing the actions that we have been putting together over the last number of weeks and months.”
He urged the public to support healthcare workers and GPs in getting to work and provide them with appropriate childcare.
The health service is providing flexibility on rosters and there is engagement across government with meetings with the childcare sector.
Business and corporations are being asked to show flexibility to employees whose partners work in the health service.
Fórsa and other unions have stressed the need for supports to ensure health staff can continue to do their job.
Asked about reports of 100,000 beds being sought to deal with a surge of Covid-19 cases, Mr Reid said it would be a “distraction” to discuss emergency planning.
The identification of beds in various locations, including student accommodation, hotels and military sites is part of contingency planning for a worst-case scenario.
HSE operations officer, Anne O’Connor said there has been a dramatic decrease in attendances in hospital emergency departments.
She said the people who are turning up are people who “absolutely need to” and they are “absolutely focussed” on moving people out of hospital and there is a considerable reduction in delayed transfers.
HSE chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, said the clinical features of the virus are evolving as they gain a greater understanding of it.
“At this point in time if you develop flu-like symptoms, including a new fever, new cough, you should self isolate for 14 days,” he said.
Dr Henry said they want to “ramp up” testing to confirm whether or not people have the virus.
Specialist in public health medicine, Dr Sarah Doyle, who was asked about playdates, said the advice is to minimise the number of children playing together.
However, they also have to be balanced, especially bearing in mind that the restrictions could be in place for a protracted period.
Obviously, she said, if a child is sick they should not be having a play date.
“So it’s being very realistic and practical in minimising the risk while allowing some semblance of normality to continue,” she said.
Cork respiratory paediatrician, Dr Muireann Ní Chróinín, warned that school closures would only be effective at slowing down the spread of Covid-19 if children are not mixing.
“They will give it to each other silently and pass it on to our loved ones,” Dr Ní Chróinín warned.
Situations must be avoided where children will interact at all costs, she stressed.
She said the children will have no problem getting through this critical period.
Paediatric hospitals in Italy are empty after three weeks of school closures as the usual viruses have stopped circulating.
“Remember, with coronavirus children are vectors, not victims. In most epidemics, young children are the transmitters.”
Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmacy Union has reassured the public that pharmacies across the country are remaining open and that medicines will continue to be available to treat patients.
IPU secretary-general, Darragh O’Loughlin, said there is no need for people to stockpile medicines.
“While pharmacies have experienced an understandable increase in demand in recent days, there are no supply shortages. Stockpiling is completely unnecessary and could itself trigger drug shortages,” said Mr O’Loughlin.