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Health service tackles Covid-19 outbreaks in Direct Provision and meat plants

HSE chief executive Paul Reid urged the public to strengthen ‘our personal vigilance’ as restrictions are eased over the coming months.

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Paul Reid speaks at the Health Service Executive weekly press briefing (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Paul Reid speaks at the Health Service Executive weekly press briefing (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Paul Reid speaks at the Health Service Executive weekly press briefing (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

The health service is continuing to grapple with Covid-19 outbreaks in congregated settings including Direct Provision centres, nursing homes and meat plants, officials have said.

It comes as the head of the HSE warned that people are four times more likely to contract the disease when in close contact with a confirmed case.

Chief executive Paul Reid urged the public to strengthen “our personal vigilance” as the restrictions are eased over the coming months.

Mr Reid told the HSE weekly briefing at Dublin City University that while the number of coronavirus cases is declining, health officials are still working to manage outbreaks in Direct Provision centres, nursing homes and meat plants.

He said that at the end of last month there were 21 Covid-19 outbreaks compared to 49 the previous week – a decrease of 57%.

Dr Mai Mannix, director of public health, said there are now 1,054 confirmed cases in 20 meat plants across Ireland.

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Paul Reid and Anne O’Connor gave an update to journalists (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Paul Reid and Anne O’Connor gave an update to journalists (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Paul Reid and Anne O’Connor gave an update to journalists (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

“The population affected are primarily young, 58% of cases are aged between 25 and 44 and most are male,” she added.

She said she has “particular concern” in relation to one meat plant as the number of cases are still rising, adding that all staff may need to be screened.

Dr Mannix also raised difficulties around language barriers in contact tracing, adding that phone calls to some contacts could take between 30 minutes to one hour as translation services are needed.

She added that contact tracing is 90% in most cases across the plants but added there are difficulties in contacting all affected people.

A total of 21,000 people have been tested in Ireland, with a positivity rate of 1.7%.

“The number of confirmed cases in hospital today is 130 which is a drop of 85% down from the peak in April,” Mr Reid added.

“85% of filled ICU beds are non-Covid-19 patients.

“Many hospitals across our system now have no confirmed cases, and that’s the way we would like to continue it.

“The number of Covid-positive patients in ICU is 37 this morning, down 77% on its overall peak.”

He told the briefing that hospital services are starting to reopen across the health system but warned that the HSE will need capacity, particularly as it prepares to deal with the winter period.

Mr Reid added that this year’s winter plan will have to be “very different” compared to previous years as it deals with both non-Covid and Covid patients.

He also said they have completed a turnaround time of two days in 82% of all cases, falling short of their 90% target.

“We tested 322 close contacts and of these 24 were positive,” Mr Reid added.

“That’s a 7.2% positivity rate and this clearly demonstrates being in close contact means the chances of being positive is four times higher than a non-contact which is 1.7%.

“It’s clear and it’s important as people are identified as contacts that you come forward as there’s a higher percentage of being a positive case.”

We have to be assured as a country that we are keeping the virus under control.Colm Henry

He added that 87% of confirmed cases in contact tracing were asymptomatic.

It was also confirmed that the contact tracing app is almost completed and is expected to go to Government for approval later this month.

Mr Reid said it is currently being tested among gardai.

Meanwhile, Anne O’Connor, the chief operations officer at the HSE, said that attendances to emergency departments is rising “significantly”.

She said: “We are up overall in attendances by 3.1% this week. Where it becomes significant is the over 75s as we have now passed where we were last week.

“The attendances of people over age 75 have gone up by almost 7% and that is now 3.7% above compared to last year.

“We no longer have a challenge of people not attending aged over 75, we are now seeing more people attending than last year. That’s a very telling sign in terms of people attending and being admitted from our emergency departments.”

Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at the HSE, said there have been fewer than 400 cases in the last week compared to 4,000 in one week in April.

“We have to be assured as a country that we are keeping the virus under control,” Dr Henry added.

“The (virus) is almost completely extinguished within our society and we have to make sure we keep it at that level as we progress from phase to phase.”

PA