Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Ireland battles new wave of Covid

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In 36 years working at one of Ireland’s busiest hospitals, Ann Noonan has treated countless critically ill patients. But she has never seen anything so ‘blind’ as the coronavirus – as a new wave sweeps the country.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like this before and spoken to my colleagues either,” said Ms Noonan, a nurse at Limerick University Hospital and a senior official with the INMO union.

“The healthiest people may be the most affected. This is what I find alarming.

As coronavirus cases have increased across much of Europe, Ireland has felt the full force of the new wave. Rampant infections since Christmas have forced Micheál Martin’s government into a series of drastic lockdowns that have shut down schools, construction, hotels and retail, again leaving tens of thousands unemployed.

But these restrictions introduced around the holiday season came too late to avoid the surge that has put tremendous pressure on hospitals, with intensive care wards filling up and 10% of frontline health workers due to infection or close contact.

The surge in infections has sparked a “day-to-day, hour-by-hour” battle to contain the virus, said Paul Reid, head of the Irish health service, who heads the country’s public health system. “It’s pretty bleak right now in terms of what we’re going through and we know it continues to get worse.”

Ms Noonan, who tested negative this week just days after receiving her first dose of the vaccine, said she was aware of teams of six or seven nurses in which two were infected with Covid-19. “It has totally decimated our staff,” she said.

Mr Martin admitted the situation was “extremely serious”, but the winter surge exceeded even the most pessimistic forecasts.

No one in government expected Ireland, which avoided the worst of the first wave last spring and did well in the fall, to now rank among the worst-hit in Europe. “We knew the numbers were going to increase after Christmas, but not to the extent that they did,” said a Taoiseach ally.

Ireland reported 73,026 infections in the two weeks to January 14 on Friday, or 44% of all coronavirus cases since the pandemic hit the country. The day before, a senior health official said that one in 67 people in Ireland had tested positive in the previous fortnight.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the incidence per 100,000 population during that 14-day period was 1,533, up from 166 on December 23 alone. Last week Ireland had the second highest rate behind the Czech Republic. data for 30 countries.

“It’s actually 20 times what it was at the start of December,” said Colm Henry, clinical director of HSE.

The highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 first detected in the UK arrived in Ireland just before Christmas. The strain now represents an ever-increasing proportion of cases and has been found in around 45 percent of the most recent samples. Still, experts believe Ireland’s Covid-19 surge was fueled by the Christmas festivities, when people were warned to avoid large gatherings even as draconian social restrictions were temporarily relaxed.

“You don’t have to be an epidemiologist, it’s obvious why this happened,” said Luke O’Neill, immunologist at Trinity College Dublin.

“The Irish love Christmas and have not followed the guidelines. Housekeeping meetings, lots of parties – it’s such a contagious virus. Even if you had three households mixing together, it would affect the spread. ”

There have been some positive signs. Reported infections have fallen in recent days, totaling 3,498 on Friday, from a record 8,248 on the same day last week. The rate of positive tests has also declined. Health officials expect pressure on hospitals to peak next week.

Dublin has also trained more than 4,000 vaccinators as part of a campaign to complete 700,000 vaccinations by the end of March. But only 77,300 people in a country of 4.77 million people had received the blow on Thursday, with officials recording many vaccinations using pen and paper.

Computer problems led Parliament to claim that Ireland “combines cutting edge 21st century vaccine medicine with a way to record this disease in the 13th century”. The government insists that new computer systems would be ready for deployment next month.

The push has put the prospect of an early economic rebound on hold. Nearly 400,000 workers demanded special Covid-19 unemployment benefits this week and another 220,000 are receiving government wage subsidies. Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Finance Minister, said the current restrictions would likely continue “in their own way” until February and March.

The Brexit woes since the UK officially left the EU on December 31 have only added to the tension. The Irish Freight Transport Association warned Mr Martin this week that the new bureaucracy was putting low-margin traders under unsustainable pressure.

“There is a growing backlog of goods of all shades, from mechanical parts (auto parts) to appliances, furniture, clothing, food items placed in depots,” the body said.

Limerick’s nurse Ms Noonan admitted ‘normal life’ was on hold as Ireland battled the virus. “I don’t meet anyone. I go to work, I go to the store and I come home, ”she says.

“We have the same fears as everyone else. We are just immersed in the virus. “

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