DUBLIN (Reuters) - The number of patients being treated for COVID-19 in Irish hospitals fell on Tuesday from the highest level recorded since the pandemic began a day earlier, as a surge in infections that threatened to overwhelm the health system began to ease.
Ireland had the fastest-growing incidence rate in Europe at the start of the year, fuelled by the relaxation of restrictions ahead of Christmas and the increasing prevalence of a new, more transmissible variant first detected in England.
That led to 2,020 patients being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 by Monday, more than double the previous peak set in the first wave of infections in April. The total fell 3% to 1,954 on Tuesday as more patients were discharged than admitted.
"It's a slight reduction. We're coping but we are under very significant strain and we really need a very, very strong, sustained effort from the public. This level of transmission is still extremely high," Paul Reid, the head of Ireland's Health Service Executive, told national broadcaster RTE.
Most non-urgent procedures in the country's hospitals were cancelled two weeks ago to divert resources to COVID-19 care with some of those empty beds turned into makeshift intensive care units (ICU) to deal with the surge.
The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU rose at a slower pace to 199 on Tuesday from 196 a day earlier. Most hospitals are at or close to critical care capacity.
Ireland's 7-day COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people has fallen for eight straight days to 470 on Monday from a high of 960 on Jan. 10 after the government imposed its strictest lockdown measures since early last year.
Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, said on Monday that while a lot of progress had been made, it was not yet nearly as much as is needed to drive down such a high rate of infection.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Janet Lawrence)