Concern over ability of health service to cope with "sudden surge" of COVID-19

A leading cancer doctor has warned he does not have faith in the ability of Ireland’s health se...

12.50 8 Mar 2020

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Concern over ability of health...

Concern over ability of health service to cope with "sudden surge" of COVID-19


12.50 8 Mar 2020

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A leading cancer doctor has warned he does not have faith in the ability of Ireland’s health service to cope with a sudden surge of COVID-19 patients.

It comes as worst-case predictions suggest as many as 1.9 million people could eventually become infected with the coronavirus.

Referencing ongoing modelling being carried out by the National Public Health Emergency Team, The Business Post reports that in a worst-case scenario, 40% of the population may come down with the virus - many of them within a three-week burst.


Work on the modelling is not yet complete.

"Sudden surge"

Speaking to Newstalk, Professor John Crown, consultant oncologist at St Vincent’s Hospital said he is deeply concerned about how the health system will cope with any surge.

“I will stick my neck out and say this: I don’t have confidence in the ability of our system, which has been so incredibly overstretched, mal-resourced and its deficiencies so amply pointed out,” he said.

“I don’t have the same faith in its ability to cope with a sudden surge of very sick people that others have.

“I think it is very important that we get the prevention measures right now. I personally believe with a heavy heart that we should probably defer the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.”

Cork Coronavirus Cork University Hospital | Image: HSE

St Patrick's Day

He said the celebration should be cancelled to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

“Generally, older, frailer people are more likely to get very seriously and life-threateningly ill from this than younger people,” he said.

“I get a little bit irritated about a certain sense that people are saying, ‘don’t worry about this, the only people who die are the old the frail.’

“The old, the frail and the sick are very important.”

Cross-party group

Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is calling on the Taoiseach to convene a meeting of party leaders to discuss the country’s response to the outbreak.

Speaking to Newstalk, Mary Lou McDonald said there is “no need for panic” but said it is “absolutely essential that we get the public health response right.”

“Given that we have a caretaker government, I think it is absolutely essential that all party leaders are fully informed and that we can assess, along with the acting government, the adequacy of the plans in place,” she said.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media this morning, 29-02-2020. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

She said the concerns of families all over the country have to be addressed.

“At the heart of this is keeping families and communities safe and well,” she said. “We are in the grip of a public health emergency and of course people are concerned.

“I think very valid concerns have been raised about the capacity of the health service, large gatherings, St Patrick’s Day and then of course travel arrangements – and in particular flights in and out of northern Italy.

“I think we need to maintain an atmosphere of calm but I also think we need now an urgent meeting of party leaders so we can assess and test the adequacy of the plans in place.”


The National Public Health Emergency Team is due to hold a briefing on the current situation with the virus this evening.

As of this morning, there are currently 26 cases on the island of Ireland – 19 in the Republic and six in the North.

Overnight, the Italian Government imposed a lock-down in the north of the country in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Overnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree banning people from entering or leaving the Lombardy region and 14 provinces in four other regions

Around 16 million people, a quarter of the country’s population, are affected.

Travel advice

The Department of Foreign Affairs is now warning Irish people not to travel to any of the regions that have been placed under isolation.

It is also advising against non-essential travel to the regions of Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Piedmont, and Le Marche.

Italy is now coping with the worst effects of the outbreak outside of mainland China, with 233 deaths.

The country has seen 5,883 confirmed cases.


The HSE is urging anyone who has been to one of seven coronavirus-affected areas in the past two weeks and is experiencing symptoms of the virus to phone their local GP or Emergency Department without delay.

The symptoms are a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fever (high temperature).

If you are feeling well, you are advised to carry on with your normal routine.

People are urged to contact the HSE on 1850 24 1850 if they think they have been in contact with a coronavirus patient or if they were at a healthcare facility in another country where coronavirus patients are being treated.

Health officials say there is no need for masks or gloves.

The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to:

  • Wash your hands properly and often
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze
  • Put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Avoid close contact with people who are not well.

Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

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