There are more than 1,000 COVID patients in hospital for the first time since February 10th, the head of the HSE has told Newstalk Breakfast.
Paul Reid said there are 82 in intensive care, which is down one on yesterday and down five on this day last week.
It comes as daily case numbers have broken 20,000 for four days in a row – and Mr Reid said the health service is struggling with staff shortages.
“Unfortunately, overnight, we received the milestone number of just over 1,000,” he said. “There are 1,004 COVID-positive patients in hospital and just 82 in ICU.
“It is a milestone we were hoping we wouldn’t see happening, but it has happened.
“The health system overall is under significant stress across the board and that goes from our primary care services - our community services and GPs in particular - and all the way through to our hospitals.
“This is normally a very busy period anyway, post-Christmas and early January, but layer on top of that COVID and layer on top of that the staffing impacts we are having from staff being out with COVID.”
He said the translation of cases to ICU admissions is significantly down on previous waves.
“I would balance all of that just to give a little of positivity to your listeners on a Monday morning,” he said.
“If we were to take the positives, first of all, the percentage of people hospitalised versus total number of cases is significantly down from where it was throughout any previous waves and that is good.
“Similarly in terms of ICU, we don’t know what will happen over the next seven days or so but what has happened to date is not that same transmission levels from hospitalisation cases into ICU.”
Mr Reid said the vaccines are continuing to protect people from severe disease – with 54% of people in intensive not vaccinated.
“If you take the total hospitalised numbers, it is about 47% of the people in hospital at the moment have not had both vaccines,” he said.
“It is probably more striking if you look at the ICUs. In ICU, the figures for those who have had no vaccine at all is 51% and then a further 3% have only had one vaccine.
“Thankfully some people are still coming forward for their dose one and their dose two – about 10,000 people per week between dose one and does two. We are still there; We are still reaching out to vulnerable groups. It is still important that people take the vaccine.”
He noted that the vast majority of people in ICU are over 18 and just 5.5% of the adult population remains unvaccinated.
Mr Reid also said he would be personally opposed to the idea of mandatory vaccination.
It emerged this morning that the Department of Health is currently preparing a paper on the legal and ethical aspects of the policy – with NPHET set to discuss it when the paper is published.
“On a personal level, I have to say the take-up we have seen in Ireland on the vaccine has been recognised all over the world as just a fantastic take-up and my own personal view on these things is we were always better off winning people’s hearts and minds,” he said.
“That is what is happening throughout COVID not just on the vaccination programme.
“You can see people’s support for our public health measures and people support for our health service – that is just a personal view, obviously these things are a consideration for Government.”
You can listen back to Mr Reid here.