Senior HSE officials have outlined a massive operation to increase the amount of equipment and facilities it has available to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.
It includes some 15 years’ worth of personal protection equipment (PPE), the first batch of which arrived in Dublin this afternoon; a contact-tracing app; and additional capacity and staffing from private hos1pitals.
HSE CEO Paul Reid, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor, and public health medicine consultant Sarah Doyle gave a briefing to outline its plans as it steps up the fight against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
They stressed the importance of following Government requirements on physical distancing and cocooning, adding that this is the most important step in slowing the spread of the virus.
They are still engaged in substantial planning for the medical efforts against the virus. These include a major international operation to source additional PPE for Irish hospitals and other medical and care facilities in the country.
Mr Reid outlined the scale of this operation. The first batch arrived on an Aer Lingus flight from Beijing to Dublin this afternoon, with the equipment on board being distributed nationwide last night and throughout today.
Mr Reid said the HSE has secured “15 years’ ” worth of PPE in a “very competitive market”.
Typically, the HSE would spend €15m per annum on PPE. This year, it will spend more than €200m.
There will be 10 flights initially, delivering more equipment from China in the coming days.
The first 10 flights will bring in 1.6m masks, 400,000 eye protectors, 265,000 gowns, and 254,000 pairs of gloves.
The total order from China, which the HSE hopes will be delivered between now and the end of May, includes 36.2m masks, 24.4m eye protectors, 24m gowns, and 56m pairs of gloves.
Mr Reid said the equipment is certified to World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
An additional key tool to be added to the HSE’s arsenal in the next 10 days is a smartphone app to facilitate contact tracing. It is understood the app will use bluetooth technology to detect when devices are in close contact with each other and this information could be used to speed up the contact-tracing process.
The HSE is working with the Data Protection Commissioner and other agencies to refine the technology, which will be available on an opt-in basis.
Currently, there are some 1,400 people trained in contact tracing, with this to increase to around 4,000 in the next few weeks. Nursing homes will be a particular focus for contact tracing.
Testing is also due to increase in the coming weeks. There are currently 46 testing centres, with six more due to come on stream in the next week.
More than 33,000 people have been tested since March 16, HSE officials confirmed.
There are approximately 5,000 people being tested every day and there are now 10,700 people waiting for a test, as well as 4,000 people waiting for an appointment for one.
The HSE has secured 60,000 test kits and is expecting another 100,000 each week going forward.
Meanwhile, Mr Reid said the On Call for Ireland recruitment process resulted in some 66,500 people applying to help.
Already, contracts for 263 nurses and 63 doctors are being finalised, and some 5,000 student nurses and 1,100 medical interns will have their placements brought forward to include them in hospitals in the coming weeks, instead of late in the year.
An agreement with private hospitals to utilise their facilities in the fight against the virus will result in some 2,000 beds, 100 critical care beds, significant nursing and other staff, 200 ventilators, and 500 consultants, operating in a public capacity.