A CORK doctor has warned that complacency around the measures introduced in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak is the “greatest hazard we face” in the weeks ahead.
A further 212 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland yesterday, with 14 additional deaths, bringing the total of fatal infections to 85.
Dr Chris Luke, who recently returned to the frontlines at the Mercy University Hospital, said that while some of the metrics in recent days have been “slightly encouraging” it is important to remember that the cases we are seeing now are from two-four weeks ago.
He admitted that what lies ahead “is going to be distressing. It’s going to be upsetting. It’s going to be terrible.”
The emergency medicine consultant said mammoth efforts are being made to prepare for the surge of the outbreak here, which he expects will be two weeks from yesterday (Wednesday).
“I’ve been back in the health service in Cork for a few weeks now and I’m hugely impressed with the preparations that are taking place,” Dr Luke said.
At a local level, these include enhanced communications, daily tele-conferences, inter-disciplinary working, redeployment of staff and the temporary relocation of outpatient services, as well as huge efforts to share science, tips, and experiences.
“There’s an avalanche of information,” he said.
There have also been some major changes to how the wider healthcare system works with the reconfiguration of hospitals, electronic prescribing and increased tele-consults with GPs.
Dr Luke said he was particularly grateful for the leadership on the issue.
“I applaud the excellent work of the top team; of the Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan; of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn; and the team. People have bought into the leadership. There is a great deal of trust and respect for the clarity and the communications, and a sense of credibility. Credibility is vital,” he said.
“If you are asking health care workers to put their lives on the line, everything they believe in, their families, you have to have a good team at the top,” Dr Luke added.
He said that while the Irish team has had an impressive "first quarter" against one of the "toughest opponents”, we need to be “very, very vigilant” and that there are risks ahead, including people thinking it’s all over.
Dr Luke said health care workers are trying to take advantage of the “late start” of the outbreak in Ireland, and to learn from the experiences in other countries.
He added that they were well aware of the impact of the disease elsewhere, and like others had seen the vast numbers of videos, clips and messages about the experiences in other countries.
“There’s a significant amount of anxiety simmering amongst health care workers. Most of these are in the system because of a vocation and a dedication. We’re relying on the experience of senior staff and the enthusiasm and newly acquired expertise of younger staff,” he said.
Latest data shows that there are now a significant number of COVID-19 cases amongst healthcare workers in Cork and across the country.
Figures published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show that as of midnight on Sunday night, 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in healthcare workers in the HSE South, which includes Cork and Kerry.
Dr Luke says that he is hopeful that as soon as it is practicable that resources are deployed to test a small sub-group of workers for the virus, and antibodies.
This group includes healthcare workers, staff in nursing homes, gardaí, staff in prisons and refuse workers.
Meanwhile, Dr Luke said he wanted “bow down in gratitude and respect” to the many retail workers, and those working in restaurants who have been looking after people.
“They are doing a magnificent job, and I have a huge amount of respect for them,” he said.