Covid-19 could over­whelm Ir­ish in­ten­sive care, new re­port warns

EU agency says fa­cil­i­ties here would be se­verely tested by surge of cases HSE says ‘ex­ten­sive prepa­ra­tions’ made in re­cent weeks to ex­pand ICU ca­pac­ity

The Irish Times - - Front Page - PAUL CULLEN and NAOMI O’LEARY

Ire­land’s abil­ity to treat coro­n­avirus pa­tients in in­ten­sive care could be the quick­est to be over­whelmed in the EU, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

The warn­ing from the Euro­pean Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (ECDC) comes as two more pa­tients with Covid-19 died yes­ter­day, bring­ing to nine the to­tal num­ber of deaths in the Repub­lic from the dis­ease.

The two deaths were of a woman in the east of the coun­try, who had an un­der­ly­ing health con­di­tion, and a man, also in the east.

Some 235 new cases were also re­ported by the Na­tional Pub­lic Health Emer­gency Team (NPHET), the high­est daily to­tal since Ire­land recorded its first case al­most a month ago. The to­tal num­ber of cases is now 1,564.

Low­est level in Europe

Ire­land’s in­ten­sive care fa­cil­i­ties can cope with just 5.6 peo­ple in ev­ery 100,000 need­ing to be hos­pi­talised, the low­est level in Europe, ac­cord­ing to the ECDC.

Its es­ti­mate is based on a sce­nario of 18 per cent of hos­pi­talised pa­tients need­ing ICU care, as hap­pened in Lom­bardy dur­ing Italy’s out­break. The next-most vul­ner­a­ble coun­try is the United King­dom, which can cope with up to 6.7 cases per 100,000.

The ECDC’s modelling is based on of­fi­cial fig­ures for ICU ca­pac­ity in Ire­land, and does not take ac­count of ac­tions taken to in­crease this ca­pac­ity in re­cent weeks.

Asked last night about the pro­vi­sion of in­ten­sive care fa­cil­i­ties, HSE chief clin­i­cal of­fi­cer Dr Colm Henry said “ex­ten­sive prepa­ra­tions” had been made for in­creas­ing ICU pro­vi­sion. Base­line ca­pac­ity of 220 beds had been in­creased to about 500 and fur­ther ca­pac­ity was avail­able through the pro­vi­sion of “ICU-type” care out­side acute hos­pi­tals, in­clud­ing in pri­vate hos­pi­tals.

The ECDC says that if the pan­demic re­mains on its cur­rent course without strong coun­ter­mea­sures and surge ca­pac­ity en­acted, there is a “high prob­a­bil­ity” many EU/EEA coun­tries will ex­pe­ri­ence de­mands that far ex­ceed cur­rently avail­able ICU ca­pac­ity.

“If this trend con­tin­ues, it is likely that in days or a small num­ber of weeks, preva­lence sim­i­lar to Hubei prov­ince and Italy will be ob­served in most EU/EEA coun­tries,” the EU agency warned yes­ter­day in its lat­est up­date on the pan­demic.

In­un­dated with calls

NPHET last night de­fended the change in case definition that ruled out send­ing peo­ple with only one symp­tom of Covid-19 for test­ing, as pre­vi­ously ap­plied. GPs around the coun­try re­ported be­ing in­un­dated with calls from pa­tients seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion or want­ing to be re­assessed yes­ter­day fol­low­ing the change.

Chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer Dr Tony Holo­han pointed out that only 6 per cent of tests car­ried out so far had come back as pos­i­tive. If Ire­land per­formed a test on ev­ery­one who had sought one it would be go­ing be­yond what any coun­try in the world has done, he said.

15-minute test

Bri­tish health of­fi­cials said a 15-minute test for the virus may be made avail­able through phar­ma­cies and online de­liv­ery ser­vices. The UK govern­ment said it had bought 3.5 mil­lion an­ti­body test kits.

Asked whether Ir­ish au­thor­i­ties might do the same, Dr Holo­han said NPHET would like to have a “re­li­able” sero­log­i­cal test avail­able but was “not at this point yet”.

NPHET is to meet to­day to con­sider whether Covid-19spe­cific hos­pi­tals should be es­tab­lished dur­ing the surge of cases ex­pected in the com­ing weeks. Wards and other seg­re­gated ar­eas have al­ready been des­ig­nated in many hos­pi­tals but to­day’s meet­ing will also con­sider whether to des­ig­nate some hos­pi­tals, par­tic­u­larly in Dublin, for this pur­pose.

Also to­day, leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing a new wage sub­sidy scheme to come into ef­fect is due be­fore the Dáil. The scheme to help work­ers through the pan­demic and keep them con­nected with their em­ploy­ers will in­volve ¤410 be­ing paid a week for all qual­i­fy­ing em­ploy­ees over the com­ing weeks as the Govern­ment moves to push cash out as quickly as pos­si­ble.

This will al­low com­pa­nies to sup­port wages and ini­tially sim­plify the scheme be­fore the more com­plex grad­u­ated sub­sidy sys­tem from next month.


Lily Greer and her niece Vi­ola Brady ad­here to so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines in Co Sligo yes­ter­day as they mark Lily’s 99th birth­day.

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