Ireland is on the verge of a “sudden and strong” surge of Covid-19 cases, the president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine has warned.
Dr Emily O’Connor said it is expected that a large number of people will get seriously ill at the same time within the next two weeks.
But she warned that if hospitals have to take in too many patients needing critical care, “we are very anxious we will run into trouble”.
She said she is also worried about whether or not there are enough critical care beds to cope or staff to manage them.
“If too many get the infection, we won't have enough critical care beds,” she said.
And she added: “We are worried that when a surge comes into an emergency department or into a region arriving into the country, that a large number of people will get seriously ill quickly at the same time.
“That very much is when the hospital system will struggle to support all those patients with oxygen.”
Her comments come as the figures for those in Intensive Care Units are increasing, as has the daily tally of those who have died.
Dr O’Connor said that while the lack of the usual numbers of people attending emergency departments is significantly down and that is “a cause of concern”, this has given hospitals time to deal with patients presenting at the moment.
But she warned: “I think further pressures are coming down the line for us. We aren't truly yet, we feel, in a surge. We are expecting it in the next week or two.
She said hospitals are as ready as they can be, saying that a lot of preparatory work had been done in emergency departments.
But, in an interview with RTE’s Morning Ireland, she said: “We know that whatever number gets infected, about 5% will need critical care support.
“The larger the number of people who get sick, the larger the number (of) who will need critical care. So keeping the number of infections overall down is our only way to control the number who will each critical care.
“If we have too many patients needing critical care and run out of critical care beds and equipment and staff, then we are still very anxious we will run into trouble.”
Dr O’Connor said she is concerned about how rapidly the figures of those in ICU are rising.
And she said: “What we have learned from our colleagues abroad is they are telling us that when this surge occurs, it happens quickly and strongly.
“We are worried that when a surge comes into an emergency department or into a region arriving into the country, that a large number of people will get seriously ill quickly at the same time and that very much is when the hospital system will struggle to support all those patients with oxygen.”