The deaths of another 38 patients diagnosed with Covid-19 – including a 23-year-old – have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team.
A further 1,068 cases were also confirmed, with the total number diagnosed during the coronavirus pandemic now at 12,547. Some 657 of the latest cases of the disease were reported by Irish laboratories with a further 411 processed in a German lab.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the increase in cases in the past four or five days was more likely related to an increase in testing rather than a change in the underlying pattern of the disease.
Of the latest deaths, which bring the total number of fatalities from the disease in the State to 444, 29 were in the east, three were in the south and six were in the west. Twenty-eight of these people were reported as having underlying health conditions and the median age of death was 84.
Of the deaths recorded so far, 284 were in hospitals, including 43 in intensive care units (ICU). Some 82 per cent of the patients had an underlying condition. The median age of those who died was 82 years.
Men greatly outnumber women among the fatalities – 262 to 182. The age range of deaths is 23 years to 105.
There have so far been 285 admissions to ICU, with 158 people currently in these units across the State, a small drop on Tuesday’s total. Some 84 patients have been successfully discharged from intensive care, while 43 have died.
The median age of ICU patients is 61, and 81 per cent have underlying conditions.
An analysis of cases up to Monday shows 55 per cent are in females and 45 per cent in males. There have been 413 clusters, which involve two or more cases, and these have resulted in 2,244 confirmed cases.
The median age of confirmed cases is 48 years, and 18 per cent of patients have been hospitalised. A total of 2,872 cases are associated with healthcare workers.
“We are continuing to monitor the course of this disease across a range of indicators – not only in the number of confirmed cases and deaths reported but also through hospital and ICU admissions, clusters and patterns of transmission,” Dr Holohan said.
“While a number of these parameters are going in a positive direction, it is clear that we need to keep going in our efforts, on an individual level, to limit the spread of this virus.”
Dr Siobhán Ní Bhriain, a consultant psychiatrist and HSE integrated care lead, said there were concerning reports that attendance to emergency departments with all forms of illness and injury is unusually low during the pandemic.
“Everyone should continue to seek medical intervention if concerned about their health. Do not ignore symptoms of illness because of fear of contracting Covid-19 or fear of imposition on healthcare staff. The health service is there for everyone and all medical concerns,” she said.
Meanwhile, the chair of the government’s Covid-19 expert advisory group, Dr Cillian De Gascun, who is also director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, has said that this has been a good week in relation to testing capacity.
“We are in a much better position now than we were at this time last week,” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Wednesday.
The key to the testing, he explained, is to test as much as needed rather than achieving a specific target.
Dr De Gascun said that Ireland was very close to being in that position. In recent weeks the issue had been that more people were coming through the testing process than laboratories could manage. Now GP referrals are being matched and are feeding into laboratory capacity.
There were some imbalances, but these are now being matched from start to finish, he said.
“This will allow us to expand out the case definition that we had to refine some weeks back. We want to expand the case definition to make it as sensitive as possible if restrictions are lifted.”
People in Ireland have been waiting up to two weeks to receive the results of swabs, but the testing backlog has been reduced from a high point of around 35,000 people waiting for results to some 11,000, the HSE’s chief executive, Paul Reid, said earlier this week.
More than 72,000 tests have been completed to date between 25 laboratories, including a German lab contracted to help the HSE clear the backlog. On average 2,800 tests are now being processed a day, although the system reached a high point in processing 7,900 tests on Saturday. It is expected the rest of the backlog will be cleared by the end of this week, with current demand for tests at around 1,200 per day.
Dr De Gascun said that testing and contact tracing are the key elements to lifting restrictions. However, the number of deaths on Tuesday was a stark reminder that “we are not yet where we want to be,” he said.
“I am very confident, with a small caveat, that we have enough diversity and robustness in the system that by the time May 5th comes that testing and the contact tracing element won’t prevent us from lifting restrictions.”
Dr De Gascun said he would be hopeful that Ireland will not need the assistance of other European countries with regard to testing now that sufficient reagent has been sourced. He said he did not want a ceiling figure for the number of tests to be carried out, instead he wanted as much testing as was required.