Official figures do not record tens of thousands of Covid infections

Senior officials have been told that thousands of infections with the Omicron version of Covid-19 have not been recorded in official figures since the beginning of December.

A meeting of civil servants, political allies and public-health officials heard yesterday that there are likely to have been at least 380,000 cases of the high-infectious strain since early last month, and perhaps as many as 500,000.

This was significantly less than the estimated 220,000 cases of the variant confirmed through the state’s PCR testing system in the same period, the Covid-19 Oversight Group was told.

The testing system has already come under great pressure ahead of Christmas, with many people with COVID-19 symptoms or testing positive antigen struggling to secure appointments.

The high rate of test positivity, which recently ran at around 50 per cent, is seen as a leading indicator that many cases go undetected and that the level of infection far exceeds what the testing system can meet. Yesterday 17,656 more cases were reported.

Admission to ICU

Despite the ongoing surge in infections, sources expressed tentative hope that the record case numbers and rising numbers of COVID-19 treatments in hospital were not being translated into intensive care (ICU) at the same rate as last January’s peak.

Michael Power, Beaumont Hospital’s consultant and clinical chief of health services executive for critical care, said ICU status, with 94 COVID-19 patients nationally, was stable. “If we look at this time last year, we remember that the figures were increasing with a net increase of 20 per day.”