Government defends lifting restrictions for Christmas despite surge in Covid-19 cases

Shauna Ledwidge

According to Our World Data, Ireland’s infection rate is the highest in the world and cases are the highest they have ever been since the beginning of the pandemic.

Ireland is currently testing five people for every thousand of the population with a seven day average positivity rate of 21 per cent.

The seven day rolling average of cases in Ireland hit 1394 cases per million, surpassing the UK on 810 cases and the US on 653.

While the second lockdown, which took place in November did not get cases below 100 as the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had hoped, Ireland seemed to have the virus under control and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan said the country had the lowest number of cases per capita in Europe.

However, the situation quickly deteriorated in the lead up to Christmas as cases began to surge from mid-December into early January.

The cause of this surge can be linked to socialising in households over the Christmas period, the reopening of restaurants and gastro pubs as well as the new highly transmissible variant of the virus which was discovered in the southeast of England.

According to the CMO the new variant is responsible for 45 per cent of new Covid-19 cases.

High volumes of travel during the Christmas period can also be attributed to the rise in cases as over 54,000 people travelled home, despite the government asking people not to.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended the government’s decision to ease restrictions in the lead up to Christmas. He told Newstalk, ““we accept responsibility but we have acted at all times in responding effectively to the waves that have emerged.”

The surge in cases and infection rates has also impacted Ireland’s hospitals even further. According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, the number of people admitted to hospital with the virus is doubling every week. As of now there are 1,897 people in hospital with Covid-19.

The HSE said they have reached their ICU limit and have started using ‘surge capacity’.  As of Tuesday, there were 330 fully staffed critical care beds open and 310 of those beds were occupied, including 195 by patients with Covid-19

A Dublin nurse who has worked on the frontlines since March and wishes to remain anonymous said the situation in hospitals is “dire.” She said the workload is “heavy and it gets worse each day.”

“We’re seeing more people being admitted to hospital with the virus, we’re seeing more deaths and trying to deal with that on a daily basis is really tough,” she said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it could be weeks before the numbers in hospitals begin to fall. He said the situation is continuing to deteriorate and it is likely to get worse in the coming weeks.

Shauna Ledwidge

Image Credit: Tara McGahan