The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry has praised healthcare workers saying they were the reason why there was a very low level of hospital acquired Covid infections at present.
The low level of infections when compared to the height of the pandemic was not just down to high vaccination figures, it was because of the actions of staff, he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.
This was cause for optimism, he added.
Dr Henry acknowledged there had been a surge in cases and that the 14-day incidence rate has increase from “the mid 400s” to almost 700 cases per 1,000 people, while the number of daily cases has risen from 1,200-1,600 to 2,000-3,000.
This was causing “some strain” on the health service, Dr Henry said, especially as there were also cases of influenza being recorded.
Vaccination provided a firewall, but while it can prevent serious illness it cannot prevent the spread of infection, so it was important to use any measure to strengthen the firewall, he added.
Most people were following advice about social mixing, but there was a need to focus on basic measures – wearing masks, handwashing and social distancing, Dr Henry stressed. Masks were still mandatory on public transport, he added, but if people were uncomfortable in any social setting then they should continue to wear a mask, even if it is not mandatory.
When asked about the level of cancellations of scheduled procedures due to the pressure on intensive care services, Dr Henry said there were “pinch points”. While the number of intensive care beds had increase it was not “indefinite” and could not continue to absorb all cases, he explained.
One out of every three ICU beds was currently occupied by a Covid patient, which is putting pressure on the service and had led to the cancellation of scheduled procedures, he said. At any time, wards could also be closed for infection control, he added.
The chief clinical officer also confirmed the rollout of booster vaccines for healthcare works will commence this weekend and will last six weeks. As some staff would not have received their second dose more than six months ago, they would have to wait to get their booster jab, Dr Henry added.
“Multiple channels” will be used for the booster campaign including 35 vaccination centres, hospitals and pharmacies, he said.
He also urged anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so and defended the decision not to use contact tracing for school children who were deemed close contacts.
The pattern of positivity with children, he said, was that they were more likely to have acquired the virus in a home setting where they got it from adults who had been in a social setting.