Health Emergency: What Is Needed To Tackle Coronavirus
The Coronavirus Disease, Covid-19, has reached Ireland but we should not panic. The virus can spread quickly but it causes only a mild illness in 4 out of 5 cases and its spread can be limited by handwashing and isolating victims and contacts until the illness passes. Particularly vulnerable are groups such as older people and those with underlying health conditions who will require extra caution and care in the event of infection. With good public health contact tracing and isolation of those infected and their contacts the spread of disease could be greatly contained. In China not even one in ten thousand people has been infected so far and only just over one in a thousand in the most affected area, Hubei Province and its capital city, Wuhan.
However, there are major concerns with the ability of the Irish health system to match these levels of containment or to cope if there is significant onward community transmission here. We already know that far too many people are on trolleys and that at least 5,000 extra beds are needed to deal with normal health issues in Ireland. Ireland has the worst hospital bed occupancy rates in the EU.
Even the government policy Sláintecare advocated 2,500 beds in 2017 but Fine Gael has not provided even one of these beds since. The Chinese city of Wuhan built two hospitals with 2,500 beds in just ten days. If even one in a thousand people in Ireland were infected, 1,000 hospital beds would be needed including more than 100 intensive care beds which would stretch capacity, but the health service would cope by cancelling elective admissions. If one in a hundred or more were infected, 10,000 beds and more than 1,000 ICU beds would be required, and the health service would not have the capacity to offer hospital treatment to the sickest patients. The swine flu pandemic infected 20% of the world population in 2009.