Failures to fully comply with coronavirus rules is frustrating efforts to bring down infection rates in Ireland, the chief medical officer has warned.
Dr Tony Holohan said reductions in infections are not happening fast enough with the virus having taken hold in every part of Ireland and he said levels of infection are still “far too high”.
Another 60 Covid-19 deaths were confirmed on Saturday, along with 3,231 new cases as post Christmas surge in new cases continues. The dramatic rise in cases has placed huge pressure on the public hospital system which is now deploying “surge capacity”, which includes utilising beds in private hospitals.
An estimated 6,500 HSE staff are currently out sick with Covid-19 and last night training of student nurses and midwives was suspended for an initial two weeks so that more than 100 experienced nursing staff involved in training could return to the wards.
On Sunday morning the number of patients with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in hospital rose to 1,872 while those in intensive care units hit a new high of 186. Some 111 patients with the virus are on a ventilator. The number of patients in hospital with a suspected case of Covid-19 fell to 136.
In a statement last night Dr Holohan said too many people were still not fully adhering to regulations and guidelines.
On Saturday gardaí – for the second weekend in a row – encountered large numbers of people in the Wicklow mountains, many of whom had travelled outside the 5km limit.
Ten people were issues with fines for breaching this regulation gardaí said.
Dr Holohan said the spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in the UK was making it more difficult to suppress the disease.
“This virus has taken root in every single part of the country,” said Dr Holohan.
“A significant percentage of the population – in excess of one in 10 in some counties – is currently either a case or a close contact. This is a huge burden of infection.
“When you consider that a significant percentage of our daily cases will directly lead to hospitalisation and mortality, the urgency with which we need to act becomes clear.
“By staying at home, you are protecting our health and social care services as they struggle against the enormous burden of infection that many weeks with thousands of daily cases of Covid-19 represents.
“The improvements in cases is not happening fast enough. Too many people are still not complying as fully as we need with the advice. “There are early indications that we may be levelling off in terms of improvement, but at far, far too high a level of infection.
“The UK variant is very likely making our challenge more difficult. Please follow the public health advice. The safest place at the moment is at home. Please stay at home.”
The deaths and cases reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) brings to 2,595 the total number of deaths from Covid-19 and 169,780 the number of cases in the Republic since the onset of the pandemic.
The median age of those who died is 85 years, and the age range is 65 to 100 years. There were no newly reported deaths among healthcare workers or those under 30.
The highest one-day death toll in the State from the pandemic was 77, recorded in April last year.
Level 5 restrictions were imposed at the start of the month in a bid to control an exponential surge on cases in the Republic, which last week saw it record the highest 14-day average number of cases in the world.
Schools, non-essential shops and most construction sites are closed and a 5km travel limit is in place for non-essential travel.
Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at the HSE, said in radio comments that social distancing and restrictions in some form were likely for the rest of 2021 at least, until enough of the population could be vaccinated to grant general or herd immunity.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said there would have to be a significant reduction in the numbers of new cases and patients in ICU before an easing of the restrictions could be considered, including that those in ICU with Covid dropped to around 50.
The schools closure initially applies until the end of January.
Virologist Dr Cillian De Gascun, who is director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, highlighted the threat posed by the new variant. “Due to the nature of the mutation found in the UK variant of the virus, it is inevitable that it will become the dominant variant here in Ireland over time,” he said.
“The UK variant has adapted to us: simply put, it is better at moving from person to person when we come into contact. “So what we must do is reduce its opportunities to spread by cutting out socialising.
“Stay home. Do not visit anyone else’s home. Do not attend illegal gatherings. “Remember the simple and effective measures from springtime – wash your hands well and often, wear a mask, cough and sneeze into your elbow, keep two metres of space from others, and phone your GP at the very first sign of Covid-19 symptoms.”
Doctors and other healthcare workers have expressed relief after receiving Covid-19 jabs at three mass vaccination centres on Saturday.
These centres opened in Dublin, Galway and Portlaoise on Saturday and will operate over the weekend.
Each is delivering hundreds of the Moderna jabs to GPs, practice nurses and other frontline staff and the HSE said that all the 3,600 GPs in the State will have received both vaccine doses by the end of February.
Meanwhile, the deaths of another 22 people with coronavirus have been recorded in Northern Ireland
The death toll collated by the region’s Department of Health now stands at 1,581.
On Saturday, the department also confirmed a further 705 cases of the virus.
Northern Ireland is currently in the midst of a strict six-week lockdown, with people legally obliged to stay at home and only able to venture out in a limited number of allowable circumstances. – Additional reporting PA