By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's hospitals cannot manage the current trajectory of its fast-growing COVID-19 outbreak and will cancel most non-urgent procedures this week to create as much spare critical care space as possible, its hospitals' chief said on Monday.
COVID-19 hospital admissions are rising by 20% a day, and the number of patients being treated could surpass the first wave peak within a day or two, having reached 776 on Monday. There were 73 patients in intensive care units (ICU).
The head of Ireland's health service operator said that on that trajectory, the total number in hospitals could hit 2,500 this month, with between 250 and 430 in ICU. Public hospitals can surge ICU capacity safely to 375 and the health service was again seeking to take over private hospital ICU beds, Paul Reid said.
"I think we've run out of adjectives to describe how serious this is... The numbers in that trajectory we cannot sustain," Reid told the Newstalk radio station.
Until recently Ireland had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, leading the government to allow the reopening of most of the economy in December.
But the 14-day COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people has risen almost five-fold to 583 in the last two weeks. Modelling chief Philip Nolan said the true underlying rate, owing to a backlog of positive tests, was 700-800, surpassing the corresponding first wave peak of around 600 in April.
The country's Chief Medical Officer last week said Ireland now had the "fastest-growing" incidence rate in the European Union and on Monday said officials have not been as concerned at any point in the whole pandemic as they are now.
Ireland will ramp up its early stage vaccine rollout this week. Its immunisation advisory committee recommended the continued administering of two doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in the period indicated by its manufacturers, and not to follow a recent shift by Britain to postpone second doses in order to give more people a first shot.
Reid said the health service would likely report around 7,000 daily COVID-19 cases in the coming days, "a frightening scale" after the positive test rate soared to 25% on Sunday alone.
One local doctor in Louth, the second hardest-hit county that borders Northern Ireland where cases are also surging, said 90% of her COVID-19 referrals from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 returned positive.
"I was referring symptoms as mild as head colds. If you think 'this is not COVID' and are about to meet up for that walk or go into work... Think again," the general practitioner, Amy Morgan, said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alex Richardson)