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Virus surge must be met head on to avoid catastrophe

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Quiet streets during lockdown

Quiet streets during lockdown

Quiet streets during lockdown

It's not vaccines that will protect people from Covid-19 illness - it's vaccinations.

The more syringes there are injected into people's arms, the nearer we are to curbing the damage of the rampaging virus.

How well the HSE rolls out the vaccine will be key - but in the meantime there must be an urgency to deal with the surge of the virus which is racing out of control.

There are few enough levers to pull to avoid a catastrophe in the coming weeks and the predictions are grim.

Should schools remain closed? Should building sites be closed down? Should curfews and mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors be a new part of our armoury?

The worst is yet to come as thousands of people who are already infected after festive get-togethers are still unaware they have the virus and could be at risk of ending up in hospital or in need of a scarce intensive-care bed.

On Christmas Eve the warning signs of the fire to come were already being signalled with 922 newly diagnosed cases of Covid-19.

Yesterday, that had spiralled to 4,962 cases. The projection is for up to 7,000 cases a day, which is 15 times higher than in late November. It highlights how the virus is accelerating.

The unknown driver is the new strain of coronavirus which could account for up to 17pc of the current prevalence.

The new strain is seen as being able to raise the virus reproduction rate - which indicates how many people one infected person infects - by as much as 0.7.

Epidemic

It appears to be more transmissible in a higher proportion of people under 20.

Scientists in the UK said it has led to epidemic growth in nearly all areas there.

The reality is that we don't know the full extent of its impact in this country and there was a denial among some senior scientists about its faster-spreading power when it first came to light.

It means it is easier to catch, and although not more virulent in causing disease, it will leave those who are vulnerable at risk of getting severely ill.

The temporary ban on all passenger travel from Britain to Ireland remains in place.

Hospitals are again struggling and there is a growing risk they will have to dig into surge capacity. One of the most dangerous impacts of this is the consequences for patients with serious and life-threatening illnesses who do not have Covid-19.

Private hospitals may provide some form of safety valve, but it is disappointing that even at this point no deal has been done with them about taking on some of the work from public hospitals.

One of the features of the early part of the pandemic was the ability to treat many Covid-19 patients who needed the highest level of support in intensive care - this is credited with reducing deaths.

The fear now is that this may not be possible in a third wave.

Around 3,000 health staff are currently out because of illness or because they are a close contact and this will lead to major complications as hospitals come under further strain.


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