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Covid-19: Health system ‘under stress’ as hospitalisations rise

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Chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Paul Reid has said the health service is “under stress” due to the latest wave of Covid-19 following the reporting of another record number of cases on Saturday.

As of 8am on Sunday, 984 people were in hospital with the virus, up 67 in the last 24 hours.

Mr Reid said on Twitter there was evidence of less severity associated with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 but “nobody is hospitalised for mild illness”.

He said there was “room for optimism” as booster vaccines were giving greater protection and intensive care cases were holding stable.

His comments came after the Department of Health reported a record 26,122 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Saturday.

Close contacts

On Saturday evening, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said new guidance on close contacts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) would give the State “options” to consider.

The health authority said some Covid-19 public health measures could be relaxed to help health systems cope with extreme pressure due to staffing issues amid high infection rates.

On Friday, it issued updated guidelines to European Union members on isolation and quarantine measures in light of the “rapid spread” of the more transmissible Omicron variant across the bloc.

Several arms of the State’s health apparatus had already warned that disruption caused by measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 is intensifying in the health service.

The new guidance includes new options regarding quarantine and isolation, and recommendations that can be adapted and implemented when resources are limited and when there is high pressure on healthcare systems and other functions in society.

The ECDC’s overall guidance regarding quarantine remains unchanged, but the options proposed include shorter quarantine periods for close contacts of Covid-19 cases in case of high and extreme pressure on healthcare systems and society.

In the options for isolation of Covid-19 cases, the clinical improvement now required includes a resolution of fever for 24 hours instead of for three days. The options also include testing by rapid antigen tests to release patients from isolation.

Shorter periods of isolation are also proposed in the options, which are for essential workers, in case of high and extreme pressure to healthcare and society.

The options also include removing the need for vaccinated close contacts of people infected with Covid-19 to quarantine if the health system is under extreme pressure.

The wider rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to children aged 5-11 began on Saturday.

Dr Lucy Jessop, director of public health at the National Immunisation Office, said as of Saturday afternoon about 77,000 children were registered for the vaccine, which equates to 16 per cent of the 480,000 in the cohort.

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