Despite growing evidence that Omicron is less severe than previous variants of Covid-19, the “extraordinarily high” case numbers are still putting the health service under strain, according to the HSE.
Its chief executive Paul Reid said the case numbers — which now routinely exceed 18,000 a day — combined with the 15,000 health staff out of work due to Covid-related issues, means that “it’s like tackling this wave with one arm tied behind our back”.
A further 18,904 new cases were confirmed tonight. The number of people in hospital yesterday stood at 1,011, while the number of people in intensive care units (ICUs) remained steady at 92. Of the people with Covid-19 in hospital, Mr Reid said around 30% were hospitalised for another reason and subsequently tested positive for Covid.
In the past two weeks, one in 16 people in the country has had a positive PCR test. Many who will have had Covid who tested positive through an antigen will not have been included in this figure.
Despite the ongoing pressure on the health system, HSE officials struck a cautiously optimistic tone in terms of how the case numbers are translating to severe disease from Covid-19.
Dr Colm Henry, the HSE’s chief clinical officer, said that the evidence emerging internationally suggesting that Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant is “gathering pace”.
In January 2021, there were an estimated 50 hospital admissions per 1,000 daily cases.
He said that while vaccinations, boosters, and natural immunity through infection have built up a wall of protection against severe illness for the population, the health service remains under pressure due to the sheer number of cases in the country.
Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor said staff absences due to Covid affecting the west and south of the country in particular.
There were 40 patients on trolleys at Galway University Hospital yesterday. Ms O’Connor said that hospital is currently dealing with “significant Covid challenges”.
At Cork University Hospital, there were 23 patients on trolleys, following 177 presentations to the emergency department on Tuesday.
Ms O’Connor said the pressure on hospital sites means that many are left with only a “trickle” of elective care being performed at present.
Mr Reid said that even if we have already reached the peak of the Omicron wave in Ireland, the health service will remain under significant strain for weeks ahead.
On the issue of booster vaccines, the HSE’s lead on the vaccination programme, Damien McCallion, said the core message from officials is for people to come forward for their booster.
He said targeted communication through text messages, ad campaigns, and outreach at third-level colleges will take place to try to encourage people to come forward for their booster.
So far, over 2.47m boosters have been administered. Those who are immunocompromised must wait three months for their booster, and anyone who has Covid must also wait three months after they have had it to come forward for their booster.
Mr McCallion said that it means there are around 700,000 people who may be eligible for their booster who have not yet come forward.