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Ireland’s ICUs could reach capacity in ‘days,’ PM warns as ‘temporary morgues’ planned amid Covid-19 crisis

Ireland’s ICUs could reach capacity in ‘days,’ PM warns as ‘temporary morgues’ planned amid Covid-19 crisis
Intensive care units across Ireland could be at full capacity “within a few days,” Irish PM Leo Varadkar has warned as the country begins to see significant upticks in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Varadkar told reporters on Friday that he was concerned about ICU capacity, saying that “As things stand, we have empty beds in our ICUs, but just the way things are heading would indicate that our ICUs will be at capacity within a few days.”

Ireland has one of the lowest ICU bed capacities across Europe, with only 50 beds per million people. By comparison, Italy, which has seen its hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases, has 125 ICU beds per million people. If Ireland was to experience a major surge in patients requiring intensive care, the units could become quickly overwhelmed. 

As of March 26, the Republic of Ireland had reported 1,819 confirmed cases of the infection. The country’s Health Service Executive (HSE) reported a jump of 255 cases on Thursday and 10 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 19. So far, 47 coronavirus patients have been admitted to ICUs.

The government said in a statement on Wednesday that it was identifying sites which could be used as field hospitals and temporary morgues in the event of a serious surge in cases.

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Varadkar, who is a doctor himself and served as Ireland’s health minister between 2014 and 2016, told reporters it now “looks like” Ireland may follow coronavirus patterns seen in other European countries.

The Taoiseach (PM) said the country’s caretaker government is working to make sure there is “backup ICU capacity” available, as well as additional ventilators and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines.

“All that is happening. An unprecedented effort is being made to tool up,” he said.

Varadkar introduced stepped-up restrictions on people’s movements this week, with residents told not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. All non-essential businesses have been closed and public gatherings of more than four are not allowed.

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