Number of healthcare workers out of work due to Covid-19 doubles in a week

Number of healthcare workers out of work due to Covid-19 doubles in a week

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) meets today to decide on giving booster jabs to healthcare workers. File Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The number of healthcare workers out of work due to Covid-19 has doubled in a week prompting HSE management to express concern for key services.

According to HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry there are now 3,500 staff out due to Covid-related illness. That figure was 1,800 at the start of last week.

"We are under pressure, there is no doubt about it," said Dr Henry. 

"Whatever the trigger points that cause us concern - the critical occupancy of ICU beds, a critical number of people coming into hospitalisation (due to Covid-19) - the loss of staff is not just bad for those who may be sick or close contacts, but it is also bad for the services which rely on those staff to deliver those services some of whom are quite specialised."

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) meets today to decide on giving booster jabs to healthcare workers.

Dr Henry said the HSE is anxious that if NIAC backs the jabs for that cohort, "we progress quickly and we are ready to administer quicky to frontline healthcare workers to protect them, to protect patients and to protect services going into what will be difficult winter".

His comments came after almost 5,000 new cases of the virus were confirmed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) over the weekend. There are now 500 Covid-19 patients in hospital, 93 of them in ICU.

The high numbers have prompted questions as to whether boosters should be made available to the wider population more quickly than previously anticipated.

Asked whether the booster campaign is likely to be expanded, Mr Martin said: "It seems to me as I said before that, in terms of the European perspective, over time vaccines will be used in respect of Covid regularly, so I think we can look forward to the expansion of boosters, subject to the advice from the clinical advisors."

On a more positive note, while the number of Covid cases continues to rise, Dr Henry said it is reassuring that "the conversion of those cases into harm is blunted".

"Over the past 14 days of the total number of cases about 1.7% were hospitalised and 0.7% admitted to ICU," he told RTÉ. "That is half the level of conversion we would have seen in previous surges. 

That protection is a protection we are seeing from the vaccine. They do not afford such significant protection against transmission."

Meanwhile, as children return to school this morning after the mid-term break, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said he is conscious that parents will be concerned about the high level of incidence of Covid-19 amongst the 5-12 age group.

"International evidence tells us that, in the vast majority of cases, children who become infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms or are asymptomatic," he said.

"It shows that child-to-child transmission is uncommon in school settings where there are preventive measures in place like those throughout our schools."

There may be a role for antigen testing in schools, according to the Minister for Education.

Last week, parents were urged to impose limits on children's activities amid warnings that the 5-12 cohort are now being infected with Covid-19 at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

“It is a matter for their consideration within the school sector,” Norma Foley said. “We have followed very strenuously and very clearly all of the recommendations that have come to us from public health.”

When asked if antigen tests could be used in schools, Ms Foley said the matter is also being considered by Nphet.

“It is my understanding that, we’ll say, in particular instances that there may well be selected by public health, that there may well be an opportunity for the use of antigen testing, but at the end of the day, it will be fully a recommendation of public health.”

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