Ireland made global headlines for all the wrong reasons during the past week as the exponential growth in the number of domestic COVID-19 cases continued apace. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Ireland had 10,100 confirmed cases per-million persons in the previous 7 days, giving the country the unwelcome distinction as the most COVID-infected nation in the world. The latest statistics from the National Public Health Emergency Team, the Department of Health group advising on Ireland’s response to the pandemic, paint a dire picture:
- The total number of confirmed deaths stands at 2,488.
- The total number of confirmed cases stands at 163,057.
- The number of hospitalisations is 1,846 – far surpassing the previous April 2020 peak of 881.
- The total number of persons in intensive care units stands at 171, surpassing the previous April 2020 peak of 155.
Although, as senior health officials have noted, the number of cases in the community have started to decline, the situation in Irish hospitals and the number of pandemic related deaths is likely to deteriorate much further before it improves – this is in line with trends the world over which Governments have become accustomed to where hospitalisations occur some weeks after a confirmed case is notified, and mortality after that again.
The current situation marks a sharp reversal for a country which was being described as “Best in Class” and had the lowest incidence rate in Europe last November, and comes despite the country being in lengthy restrictions since September. The Government decision to relax measures in the run-in to the festive season to allow people, in Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s words, to have a “meaningful Christmas” is coming under serious scrutiny with political pressure likely to grow in the coming days and weeks as the situation in hospitals will undoubtedly escalate and be accompanied by further media coverage of frontline healthcare workers struggling among the catastrophic surge.
Pan-European criticism of the European Union’s efforts regarding vaccine procurement and rollout have also been magnified domestically during Ireland’s third wave. Commission spokesperson for health, food and safety, Stefan de Keersmaecker, appeared on national broadcaster RTÉ’s flagship current affairs programme late last week to defend the EU approach. Domestically, Government has had to defend accusations that initial vaccine rollout has been “sluggish” while others have pointed to issues around IT systems and a wider lack of transparency. However, Government also received some respite on the vaccine front this week as Moderna announced that shipping of its vaccine to Europe had commenced on Monday afternoon, this was followed by confirmation that the European Medicines Agency had received a request for approval from AstraZeneca for the vaccine it developed with Oxford University while on Thursday night the latest “Our World in Data” report demonstrated that Ireland was placed second in the EU rankings for the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per-100,000 of the population – with 1.57% of the population vaccinated thus far.
These positive developments also came after comments from the Taoiseach this week that the world “will be very different in June” and there will be “room for manoeuvre around decision making”, providing a glimmer of hope as Ireland endures its most torrid phase of the pandemic thus far.