Concerns over new variant growing as hospitals feel the strain

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Concerns over new variant growing as hospitals feel the strain
© Getty A Covid testing centre in Lisburn. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)

Concern has emerged over a new Covid variant as 2,466 more cases of the virus were reported here yesterday, the highest since January.

It comes as the UK Health Security Agency said preliminary evidence revealed the offshoot of the Delta variant – which has been found in Ireland – may spread faster.

The new strain, known as AY.4.2, is being monitored here, Dr Cillian de Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said this week.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said “Covid-19 will be with us for ever” and warned that stricter controls may need to be reintroduced, although the aim was to avoid that drastic action.

He was speaking as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital rose to 457, an increase of nine in 24 hours. Two more of these patients were in intensive care, bringing the number who are seriously ill to 90.

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Many hospitals across the country are being hit by serious overcrowding due to an influx of patients on top of Covid-19 cases, leading to a cancellation of surgery and long waits on a trolley.

Sixteen children had to wait on trolleys for a bed yesterday in Crumlin and Temple Street Hospitals, which are struggling with an early spike in respiratory illnesses, rather than Covid-19.

A spokeswoman for the hospital declined to comment on the need to leave children on trolleys but said it was seeing a sharp increase in winter levels of seasonal respiratory illness since September and had to manage in very old and cramped buildings.

She confirmed children’s hospitals are having to postpone some planned admissions of children on waiting lists in the coming weeks and apologised to families whose children are having procedures put back at short notice.

Yesterday, just 12 beds were left for children and no intensive care bed was free.

Jack Lambert, Professor of Medicine in UCD and an infectious disease expert, criticised the timing for reopening, saying: “The end of October annually is the time that respiratory viruses start to peak and continue through winter.”

He said there is a “lack of respect” for healthcare workers and called for booster vaccines, saying some of his colleagues have been re-infected.

Yesterday, 10 hospitals were classed in the red zone due to overcrowding, including hospitals in Galway, Tullamore, Mayo, St Vincent’s in Dublin, St Luke’s in Kilkenny and Cork University Hospital.

A spokeswoman for Cork University Hospital, which has been under pressure for weeks, yesterday refused to say how many patients have had their procedures cancelled due to the pressures, although other hospitals have responded with clear public information.

“The Government may have to take tough and unpopular decisions if the pressures on the health service due to Covid-19 escalate,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said yesterday.

Speaking in Limerick, Mr Varadkar said: “There’s always the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced in the country as a whole, but what we are aiming to do is to get through this winter without having to do that.

“I think its increasingly clear that Covid is going to be with us forever. It’s going to become an endemic virus, perhaps a virus that is seasonal in nature.

“Everyone in Government is going to be a little bit worried about what we face into for the next couple of weeks.”

Mr Varadkar expressed concern for members of his own family who work in the health system as they prepare to face another uncertain winter working on the front line.

“I think people working in the health service are worried as well, and I have a lot of friends and family working in the health service,” he said.

“So I am concerned for them and the pressures they and patients are going to face over the next couple of weeks.”

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that because of the potential for the virus to spawn a more transmissible and harmful variant of itself, that Covid could still trip us up.

“We know from the experience in other countries that Covid cases are rising in Germany and Belgium and Netherlands, linked to the fact that people are mixing more, linked to the fact that we are heading into winter and people are heading indoors more,” he said.

He also said he would roll up his sleeves and assist colleagues in the health system if he was needed again.

“As you know I’ve done that on two occasions in the pandemic and most recently I was a part of the vaccination programme during the summer so the short answer is yes – I am willing and available to help out if I’m needed.”

He said he would not be immediately joining others in returning to the nightclub scene.

“Not this weekend, but I’m not in the business of criticising or condemning anyone who decides to go out.

“Get vaccinated, bring you’re Covid cert, and if you’ve any symptoms, whether vaccinated or not, stay at home.”

He added that people should consider taking an antigen test before going out.

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