THE country’s intensive care units will be at capacity “in a number of days”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan and Mr Varadkar recently expressed concern over the number of patients diagnosed with Covid-19 admitted to ICU.
Mr Varadkar said that while there are currently a number of empty beds, the situation would change over the coming days, adding that it would become “very difficult.”
“The way things are heading indicate that ICU will be at capacity in a number of days,” he said.
“That’s already the case around Europe, it may happen here. We have to plan for that.
“We need to make sure we have capacity, ventilators, all of those things.
“An unprecedented effort is being made by the health service to tool up, to recruit, to provide additional capacity, to do all the things we need to use.
“Just as we are seeing across Europe, just as we are seeing in the US now, just as we saw in China, there isn’t a health service in the world that isn’t going to be able to tool up or scale up as quickly as necessary, so we are going to be demanding a very difficult situation and everyone is going to be doing the very best job.”
Mr Varadkar said that people seeking a three-month payment break on mortgages and loans should not be forced to pay additional interest.
Mr Varadkar also said that people who can pay mortgages and loans during the coronavirus crisis should continue to do so.
Speaking today, he said: “I’ve a very simple message to the banks, and that is that if people cannot pay their mortgage and cannot repay their loans, then they should extend their loans by three months, give people a three-month break and add to the end of that loan the three extra months.
“That’s the right thing to do, that’s the fair thing to do, and it actually makes sense for the banks to do that in the longer term.
“That shouldn’t involve additional interest.
“When it comes to people who can pay their mortgages, who can pay their rents, and pay utilities, who can pay their loans, they should continue to do so because actually most people in Ireland who had a job haven’t lost it so they’re still getting paid.”
The Taoiseach was visiting fruit and vegetable wholesaler where he and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys were given a tour.
Mr Varadkar said the total death toll from coronavirus was “impossible to predict.”
He added: “We are only still learning about it. But if you take the average flu season in Ireland, there would usually be around 500 deaths, if you take a bad flu season in Ireland there would roughly be 1,000 deaths.
“It would be a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise, if the number of deaths at the end of this was less than 1,000.”
Mr Varadkar also said that construction sites that cannot implement social distancing should be shut down.
The Fine Gael leader said that “absolutely essential” construction work needs to continue, including healthcare facilities and pharmaceutical plants.
He added: “Even arguably housing for homeless people so that they are not in overcrowded accommodation, but it does need to be done by social distancing.
“That can never be done perfectly.
“It’s not being done perfectly in the supermarkets, it’s not being done perfectly in other places, but it needs to be done to an acceptable extent that people are protected and the risk of the transmission of the virus is minimised.”
Earlier today, a public health expert said he believes the UK will be left with a “high burden of coronavirus cases” following its response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Dr Gabriel Scally, president of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, said there will be populations across the UK with a high exposure to the virus. The UK Government has been urged to change its response to tackling the spread of coronavirus by health experts.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said only those seriously ill in hospital would be tested, advising anyone with symptoms to self-isolate at home for seven days.
The Republic of Ireland, like many other countries, is following international advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Scally, who led the CervicalCheck review in Ireland, said: “A big difference is that the UK is making no effort to control the spread of the virus in the community by testing for cases and by contact tracing, and so the United States, the UK and Sweden are the three real outliers on this.
“Those three countries are taking a different route.
“I think the end game is going to be really very, very different. There are going to be a high burden of cases, particularly in the US, and I think in the UK as a result of what they’ve done or rather what they’ve not done.
“When we get past this — what is likely to be a very large surge — we’re going to end up with populations in the UK with a high exposure to the virus.
“So a lot of people will have had it compared to the Republic of Ireland and other European countries, and it will then be difficult to lift some of the restrictions, particularly around travel and so on because the two countries, the two groups of countries, will be in completely different places.
“Personally, I think there’s no doubt in my mind that the Republic of Ireland is taking exactly the right course, based on international experience, and the very best advice.”
Dr Scally said that, “even more importantly,” this would “buy time for some of the drug trials to take place, so we can treat people more effectively”.