A loss of smell and taste will now officially be added to the symptoms of Covid-19, allowing for those with no other discernible symptoms to seek a test from their GP.
Chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, told the daily Department of Health briefing that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is expected to add the conditions, known as anosmia and ageusia, to the list and that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has agreed in principle to follow.
Mr Holohan also said that allowing some counties with lower rates of infection, such as Waterford, to open up faster than others from lockdown measures could lead to several unintended consequences — such as people crossing borders seeking to go to a pub in another county.
Professor Philip Nolan of NPHET said trends in Ireland such as admission to ICU and hospitals, as well as daily cases and deaths, are "astonishingly stable", and are a very good sign overall.
Meanwhile, a private hospital in Limerick which the Minister for Health said is 30% full, in fact, has no inpatients whatsoever.
The Bon Secours Limerick, one of the 19 private hospitals taken over by the HSE at end-March in order to extend the public health system’s capacity, has had no inpatients since that deal was signed.
The hospital, which has a bed capacity of 50, had just one inpatient discharged between March 30 and May 25, the Department of Health said.
On Wednesday, Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that “updated figures I have today show 30% of inpatient beds now being used in the Bon Secours Hospital Limerick”.
However, no further inpatients have been received in the intervening days, according to sources at the hospital.
The Department of Health deferred questioning on the occupancy of the private hospitals to the HSE, from whom it said the figures have emanated.
The HSE had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
At Thursday’s weekly HSE briefing Anne O’Connor, the HSE’s chief operating officer, confirmed that day cases and inpatients in the private hospitals are measured differently, with the bed occupancy stemming from the latter calculated by overnight stays.
The under-utilisation of the private hospitals has become a persistent criticism of the deal signed by the State to take them over at a cost of €115m per month.
The HSE has said that occupancy within the hospitals stands at close to 50%.
However, internal hospital sources across facilities suggest the figure is closer to 35%, from a low of 15% in mid-April.
The crux of the deal signed between the State and the private hospitals was that all essential non-Covid-19 diagnostics and procedures were to happen within that additional capacity.
However, in at least one institution, St Vincent’s Hospital in south Dublin, the activity of the public hospital has moved fully to its private counterpart due in part to renovations of the former’s operating theatres commencing after the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
“Since the entering of the agreement between the HSE and private hospitals during the pandemic all public patients being treated for non-Covid procedures have been admitted to St Vincent’s Private Hospital,” a spokesperson said.