DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland is beginning to turn the corner in tackling its most damaging wave of COVID-19, but a surge in cases has left hospitals “beyond strain”, senior health officials said.
Irish officials said on Monday that a “tsunami” of cases highlighted by Prime Minister Micheál Martin last week had infected one in 76 people in the last 14 days.
However, tentative signs of improvement identified late last week appear to be taking hold, COVID-19 modelling chief Philip Nolan told a news briefing, pointing to a stabilisation in new cases and a drop in the positive test rate to 18.5% from 23%.
“It does look like we are beginning to turn a corner… (But) we still have a long way to go,” Nolan said.
Officials say the fastest-growing incidence rate in the European Union was fuelled by the relaxation of restrictions ahead of Christmas and the increasing prevalence of the new more transmissible COVID-19 variant first discovered in England.
The variant was present in almost half of the most recent sample of cases that underwent additional testing, the head of Ireland’s national virus laboratory, Cillian De Gascun, said.
That compared to 9% three weeks ago and De Gascun said he expected it to be the dominant variant in the coming weeks.
Nolan said this meant people will have to face the “sad reality” that it will get tougher to beat the virus, until a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated.
With some doctors describing the situation in hospitals as “grave” and one that was keeping them awake at night, COVID-19 patients rose by 10% from Sunday to 1,582, almost twice the peak set during the first wave in 2020.
Nolan said hospitalisations look set to peak at between 2,200 and 2,500 people, while critical care admissions grew at a faster rate to leave just 38 of Ireland’s 292 critical care beds empty as others are turned into makeshift intensive care units.
“The situation in our hospitals is now beyond strain,” Paul Reid, the head of Ireland’s Health Service Executive, said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alexander Smith)