| 12.2°C Dublin

17 more virus deaths as Covid-19 starts to take toll on hospitals

Close

Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn at
a Covid-19 press conference last night.

Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn at a Covid-19 press conference last night.

Colin Keegan

Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn at a Covid-19 press conference last night.

Ireland has suffered its darkest day in the fight against the coronavirus with a record number of 17 deaths and 325 new cases of the infection.

The mounting death toll from the virus has now reached 71, with men accounting for 52 of the fatalities.

The jump in new cases brings the total number struck by the infection here so far to 3,235.

It comes as hospital intensive care units also came under mounting pressure, caring for 113 severely ill patients with the virus. There have been 703 people hospitalised.

The median age of the latest victims of the virus was 84.

Fear

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that while the emergency measures were helping to flatten the curve - the daily increase in cases was still too high.

The fear is that there will be a surge in the coming weeks which will overwhelm hospitals with seriously ill patients.

The National Public Health Emergency Team are now recommending more intensive tracing of the contact of people who test positive.

Dr Holohan said in future "contact tracing will encompass the period from 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms" because the person who tests positive may not have been showing signs of the infection.

The average number of contacts of people who are infected has reduced to three due to physical distancing and these tend to be others in the household, he added.

They also want safeguards to be stepped up in nursing homes and other residential centres where residents have been at the centres of clusters of the virus.

They include asking healthcare workers who share a house to agree to go to other accommodation which could be provided by the HSE as a means of reducing the chances of them infecting each other and passing it on in the workplace.

"The measures that we have recommended today should significantly enhance the preparedness and response to cases and outbreaks in nursing homes and other residential settings," he said.

"As we have said from the beginning, our efforts must be focused on protecting the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and these recommendations announced today seek to achieve this."

Dr Cillian de Gascun, of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, confirmed there can be a delay of 10 days before a person who is tested for the virus gets their result.

Swab

He said there are ongoing problems trying to secure enough of the testing kits to carry out the necessary extraction needed to analyse a swab in the laboratory.

The Health Research Board said it is to start a clinical trial in a number of intensive care units to find out if there are treatments which can support patients who are seriously ill.

The trial will start enrolling COVID-19 patients on the island of Ireland at the start of April and will test interventions for COVID-19 in critically-ill patients, capture the outcomes and analyse data across an international network in a global effort to reduce the impact of the virus.

Rapid data sharing will ensure findings relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak are shared quickly with others working in the area to inform decision making.

It will start in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin and University Hospital, Galway and will also involve Beaumont Hospital, Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Limerick, as well as the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Dr Diarmuid O'Shea, consultant geriatrician in St Vincent's Hospital, said cocooning for the over-70s and people who are vulnerable due to illness has now become "a must if we are to meet the challenge of protecting those that are most at risk of harm from the ill-effects of coronavirus."

Dr O'Shea added: "If you are in good health, you are independent, and you are used to regular exercise, these additional shielding measures have been put in place to support you to stay that way.

"The rules may seem overly harsh and challenging right now, but this is what it will take for a time to keep you, and your loved ones, safe and well.

"To help stop the spread of coronavirus, we must all play our part. It's not just about your own health, it's about everyone else's health as well."