Even the “optimistic” modelling for the spread of Omicron variant in Ireland has indicated that hospitals would be put under pressure, the chief executive of the HSE has said.
Speaking on both Newstalk and RTÉ radio on Friday morning, Paul Reid said the booster jab campaign was a pre-emptive attack. “That’s our first line [of defence],” he said.
While not enough was yet known about the Omicron variant, Mr Reid said it did appear to be highly transmissible and the sheer volume of possible cases would have an impact on hospitals.
Mr Reid said health service staff had experienced “a horrendous year”, working through four waves of the virus and a cyber attack. “Just as we were beginning to see progress, we are now facing Omicron,” he added.
He said the HSE had been in a very strong position recently with a 22 per cent reduction in hospital admissions, but the figures were still at “too high a base” to face Omicron.
It was disheartening, “just when you feel we’re making progress, it hits you again,” he added.
Real evidence was still emerging which made modelling difficult, but even the most “optimistic” outcome would put hospitals under pressure which made the booster vaccine campaign so important.
The HSE was looking at measures to scale up intensive care capacity in the event of a surge, along with care in the community and utilising private hospitals.
Mr Reid admitted that non-Covid care would be modified on a hospital-by-hospital basis, to date it had not been necessary to make a national decision. “We will keep going that way as long as we can,” he said, with the aim to sustain urgent care.
The most recent figures for staff out of work for Covid-related reasons had been 5,800, but that had been reduced to just over 5,000 which highlighted the importance of the booster campaign.
Protocols about derogations for close contacts would be made at local level, but if staff who were close contacts were not symptomatic, had not tested positive and were fully vaccinated the policy was that they could work, he said.