Yesterday, seven Covid-related deaths and 4,962 new cases were recorded across the country, with 350 cases in Cork.
According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Cork University Hospital has more than 100 nurses out for Covid-19 reasons and the ICU One ward was closed yesterday as only four nurses were available to staff it.
Dr Mary Favier, Covid-19 adviser to the Irish College of General Practitioners, said the situation is now “very scary”.
“The HSE has all sorts of contingency plans, but it is a deep concern,” said Dr Favier. “We can’t stop what has happened over the last two weeks. From today on, however, we can affect the cases going forward. We need to buck this trend as, otherwise, our hospital service won’t function.”
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central, Pádraig O’Sullivan, said the Government needs to “hold its hand up” with regard to relaxing restrictions before Christmas.
“The Government has to hold its hand up with opening up for hospitality. The retail run into Christmas all contributed to this rise.
Mr O'Sullivan added. “You won’t always get it right. I do think those decisions are made with the best of intentions and people’s best interests at heart. The Nphet model at that time wasn’t suggesting things would escalate this quickly,” he added.
Deputy O’Sullivan has said he will be calling for the rollout of the vaccine to be implemented as soon as possible. “The vaccine gives us hope. I will be recommending that we need to get this expedited as quickly as possible. Personnel who work in schools and similar childcare facilities also need to be prioritised for quicker vaccination than they currently are.”
The Cork TD agrees with regularly reviewing whether schools’ should re-open on Monday, January 11. “There is no point being dismissive and saying they will open at all costs on January 11. It is the responsible thing to keep this under review. It has to be safe for everyone,” he added.
Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould has criticised the Government's contact tracing efficiency.
“We don’t have a tracking and tracing system that is fit for purpose. The other issue is people coming into the country. There was no traceability or testing done on them. The failure to implement a proper tracking and tracing system has been very disappointing.”
Dr Favier said SouthDoc in Cork reported an extraordinary surge of calls over the weekend.
"They reflect that Cork had the highest figures on Saturday. Our GPs are under serious pressure. If they close, people will then go to emergency departments which will ensure they will then be overwhelmed. There are already staffing problems in various hospitals. It is a frightening scenario,” she said.
Dr Favier has appealed to people to get back to basics to try and stem the increasing tide of rising cases nationwide which are expected to rise further in the coming days. "I often use the analogy that we are currently 12 points down at half-time. We are now starting the second half. We need to keep our heads up and refocus. I think we can do it, but we need to do the small things right,” the GP added.
The GP revealed that the huge spike in cases is not due to the variant, but rather the social activities of people over the festive season. “The stats are very concerning but not unexpected. It seems unlikely that they are related to the new variant yet in terms of substantive numbers. It is down to our personal behaviour. It is what we were all doing over Christmas and in recent days in terms of meeting people. This is evident in the close contacts going from three to eight. GPs are reporting that 100% of close contacts are becoming positive.”
Yesterday, there were seven additional deaths related to Covid-19 notified with 4,692 new cases.
1,260 cases were in Dublin, 652 in Limerick, 350 in Cork, 321 in Louth, 238 in Meath and 2,141 spread across all remaining counties.
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the situation being relayed by frontline staff is now "disturbing".
“What we are hearing from members across the country this weekend is deeply disturbing. The progress we made on keeping case numbers down seems to be completely undone.
“Covid is creating more patients while also depleting staffing. It’s a vicious combination. Staff are far more experienced than they were at the start of this pandemic, but the sheer numbers are difficult to cope with.
Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, said: "This is a critical time. We are seeing a really significant surge in infection, which is leading to a very rapid increase in both hospitalisations and admissions to critical care units.
"This is not only unsustainable for the healthcare system, but also a deeply concerning level of preventable sickness and suffering that we must work together to address as quickly as possible.
"The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has more than doubled from this day last week, and so has the number of people in ICU.
"Remember that behind each hospital statistic and ICU figure is a real person like you, with a family who cares about them, and a team of healthcare workers dedicated to protecting their lives. We must be as dedicated as we all were in the spring in our commitment to following the public health advice.
"Act as though you are infectious. Stay at home. Work from home starting from tomorrow, and if you are an employer, ask your employees to work at home. What we all do at a collective level today will have a direct impact on the level of infection and hospitalisations in the weeks to come.
"Your safe actions now will protect our hospitals and those who work so hard in them. Simply put: when you stay at home, you protect the frontline healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly to keep us all safe throughout this pandemic. Hold firm and remember them."