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Mortality rate expected to spike among vulnerable in society, chief medic reveals

The number of people who will die from Covid-19 is expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks, it was predicted yesterday.

The death toll from the virus fell to a low of 14 in August, but it has been climbing this month as the rate of infection rose exponentially, the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 was told.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “If we see a sustained increase in cases and in particular an increase in cases among those who are vulnerable we will see more deaths in this country.”

“We have already seen an increase and we expect to see that increase in the coming weeks,” he told Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan.

Dr Glynn pointed to additional admissions to critical care in the previous 24 hours.

There are still relatively fewer cases of Covid-19 in older people during this second wave, but the risk of them dying if they get it is very high. There have been 269 hospitalisations with the virus since the beginning of August, and 56 of these are under the age of 40 years.

The committee, which was quizzing Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and senior members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), also heard 23 schools or childcare facilities have had more than one case so far.

That is not to say that one case was linked to another, said Dr Glynn.

Mr Donnelly indicated there will be developments which would see an expansion of access to foreign travel under the new EU system which is being finalised and Ireland will join.

He said this would involve greater use of travel locator forms and testing.

Prof Philip Nolan of Maynooth, who is a member of Nphet, said there is no use in introducing point-in-time testing at airports and ports that this stage, but the EU plan would offer a way forward.

Mr Donnelly said he planned to double the number of staff in HSE public health departments who are leading the work in the management and investigation of Covid-19 cases and outbreaks.

“In the next two weeks the HSE will begin a recruitment campaign for 255 staff, including public health doctors, nurses, scientists and support staff,” he added.

He also confirmed he is sanctioning another €30m for nursing homes to support areas like staffing and personal protective equipment (PPE) over the next three months.

Asked about the resumption of disability day services, which are now reduced to one or two days for many people, he said €10m ring-fenced winter funding has been sanctioned

However, he has been told by providers that regardless of funding the constraints of Covid-19 infection control are holding them back. He hopes to get more funding in the Budget.

The meeting heard strong calls on Nphet to be more accountable and provide evidence for its far-reaching and life-changing decisions.

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall said people needed more data on the pattern of the virus locally and it was too difficult to get basic information.

Dr Glynn replied that Nphet publishes a large volume of documentation and minutes of their meetings. But he did not support a proposal from chairman Michael McNamara TD that Nphet should web-cast its meetings in order to improve public buy-in for its profound recommendations.

By Eilish O’Regan
04/10/2020
Irish Independent