Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that “for next few days and weeks the figures are going to get worse” for Covid-19.
Over the weekend, public health officials issued stark warnings about the spread of Covid-19 after a further three people died and record number of new cases were recorded.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said on Saturday a further 1,012 new cases of the disease were reported. It is the highest number of cases in a single day since the height of the pandemic on April 15th, when 1,068 were recorded. It is only the third time daily case numbers have risen above 1,000.
“New cases are doubling about every 16 days” Mr Donnelly said on RTÉ radio’s This Week in Politics programme on Sunday. At the height of the pandemic the rate doubled every five or six days.
Mr Donnelly said it was important “not to look at any individual day but to look at trends”.
The reproduction or R0 number for the country is 1.2. Dublin has a reproduction rate for the virus of 1. He said an “extra push for Dublin could produce positive results for Dublin”.
He added: “The R0 for the rest of the country is 1.6, which is very high and that is why we are in Level 3 for the country.”
“The initial indications in Dublin are positive and we now have the opportunity working together to say we’re going to embrace this.”
Mr Donnelly said the State also planned to introduce coronavirus testing at airports as part of a possible alternative to quarantine for some arriving passengers, although it is not clear when the capacity will be ready.
Airlines Ryanair and Aer Lingus have heavily criticised the Government for imposing some of the strictest travel restrictions in Europe, with 14-day quarantines advised for almost all incoming travellers.
Questioned about the Tánaiste’s suggestion of a “circuit breaker” lockdown, which is a short national lockdown, Mr Donnelly said “it’s not being considered right now”.
He said: “This week’s figures are not a reflection of whether we should be in the so-called circuit breaker.”
Mr Donnelly said some time ago Singapore trialled the Level 5 circuit breaker for about three months and it seemed to have worked. Israel is the only country doing it now at Level 4 and the indications are positive.
“The fact that Level 4 and 5 are in the framework it’s implicit that at some point we might have to go there” but he said they were not considering it now,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Saturday night: “I am very worried about the numbers we are seeing and how quickly they are deteriorating.
“All of the important indicators of the disease are deteriorating. For example, there has been a consistent increase in test positivity over the past week. The test positivity rate up to midnight Friday October 9th was 6.2 per cent, which has more than doubled in less than a fortnight.
“Case numbers are growing across all age groups and throughout the country.”
On Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a statement asking to public to change their behaviours to help stop the rapid rise of coronavirus.
“If we all change our behaviours and work together we can make Level 3 work, protect lives and livelihoods, show that we can contain the virus and prevent its growth,” he said.
Mr Martin said the move to Level 3 involved tightening restrictions on people and society, which particularly affected the hospitality sector.
“Covid-19 is challenging countries across Europe and throughout the world,” he said.
“The coming weeks will be challenging but working with Nphet, we will respond firmly and appropriately. We have the capacity and resources to come through this and we will.
“An unprecedented level of resources have been allocated to the health services, both in the Winter Plan and throughout the entirety of 2021.”
Mr Martin said these resources would enable the health service to cope with Covid-19, and ensure better health service for the future.
Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a “circuit breaker”… “may well be needed at some point,” writing in the Sunday Independent.
“I know some say that a circuit break could save Christmas. I am not so sure. The problem is that when you’re in full lockdown it’s difficult to get out of it,” he wrote.
On Monday, the Government rejected the Nphet’s advice to move the country into a national lockdown for four weeks. Instead opting to put the country on Level 3 of its Living with Covid-19 plan, which entails restrictions on restaurants, pubs, and movement between counties.
Senior medical leaders believe that while the hospital system is challenged it is not overwhelmed at this stage, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said.
Paul Reid said that the HSE’s chief clinical officer as well as lead consultants across the country in intensive care and emergency medicine had advised him up to Sunday morning that the hospitals were “coping”.
He said their advice was that the situation was “continuously on watch”.
Mr Reid told RTÉ on Sunday that the advice to him was that the “system has not been overwhelmed right now”.
He said that situation could change very quickly and it needed to be monitored carefully.
“I will take my lead ultimately from our senior consultants and that it how they are decribing it right now.”
Mr Reid said HSE senior management would be taking a site-by -site look at the situation in hospitals on Monday morning.
The HSE chief said the health service wanted to see 1,400 additional beds, which either had already been introduced on a temporary basis earlier this year or promised under the new winter plan to be “sustained throughout next year”. He said this was being discussed as part of the current financial estimates ahead of the Budget next week.
Mr Reid said the HSE in the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic had put in place about 800 additional beds – 400 in level four hospitals and 400 in level two hospitals.
He said under the winter plan a further 590 beds were to be provided.
Mr Reid said funding was in place to recruit additional staff for the health service but that this process could take time to complete. He said the HSE’s €600 million winter plan contained significant investment for additional resources.
He said there were net increases of more than 150 consultants and 5,000 staff overall this year.
Mr Reid said the health service wanted to recruit more consultants, other doctors and nurses, but it would take time.
He said the HSE was looking at ways of accelerating recruitment of health staff.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Further Education Niall Collins of Fianna Fáil said Government would consider moving other counties where the virus continues to spread rapidly, like Donegal, to stricter levels under the plan.
“The figures are trending in the wrong direction, they are stabilising in Dublin that being said, so let’s see how it goes over the next number of days,” he said on RTÉ’S This Week programme.
“If we have to go on different levels for different counties of course that is a consideration that can be taken, or if we have to move the entire country up a level or two levels, that will be a decision, which will be taken based on all the best advice.”
Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin enterprise spokeswoman, criticised Mr Varadkar’s “kite flying” over a circuit breaker lockdown as “very unhelpful.”
Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD, said the Government was “in denial” about its Covid-19 plan, which was not working.