The HSE has pledged to provide an additional 1,500 hospital beds as part of its €600 million winter health plan against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the plan, to be published today, the HSE will also employ hundreds of extra staff and seek to ensure 1.5 million people receive the flu vaccine in the weeks ahead. Political sources said a key objective would be to cut waiting lists by more than a third and to improve patients’ experience in emergency departments.
Meanwhile, State health officials have warned that coronavirus infections across the country are “a week or two” behind where Dublin is but will catch up unless public behaviour changes,
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) described the next 10 days as “critical” in the fight against the virus as specific counties were singled out.
The warning came as the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee heard health experts have insufficient information to establish where people were getting infected because officials were only checking their close contacts for the 48 hours before they showed symptoms.
Prof Kirsten Schaffer, president of the Irish Society of Clinical Microbiology, told the committee the gap in information was impeding the development of more refined or localised actions.
There were two more deaths from the virus announced yesterday, bringing the death toll to 1,794. There were 234 new cases, including 103 in Dublin, bringing total known cases to 33,675.
At a briefing at the Department of Health, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn raised concerns about rising infections in Louth, Waterford and Donegal, where one in three cases are in people aged 15 to 24.
He also urged caution in parts of north Wicklow and east Kildare that border Dublin but asked that people across the country cut down on their social contacts with others. “It is Donegal today, it will be another county tomorrow, it will be another county the day after,” he said.
Dr Glynn warned people either had to make “hard choices” individually now or face “much more difficult choices at a societal level in the weeks and months to come”.
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the reproduction number of the virus was “far too high” at between 1.5 and 1.7, which means that every 10 people infected with the virus will spread it to between 15 and 17 others. The increase in the rate of infection among more vulnerable older people – four times what it was five weeks ago – was a “grave concern”, he added.
It emerged yesterday that Irish clinical research group Open Orphan is to run the world’s first coronavirus human challenge trials – where healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with the virus to assess the effectiveness of experimental vaccines.
The UK government-funded studies are expected to begin in January. A 24-bed quarantine clinic in east London, has been earmarked for the initial trials. It is run by hVivo, a spinout from London’s Queen Mary University that was bought this year by Open Orphan.