We may have reached the peak of the Omicron wave, after several weeks of tornadoes as it spread across the country.
Much is now known about it beyond initial fears that the speed of its spread will take a toll on our hospitals.
Next week will add to the picture even more and is seen as giving time for public health officials to be more confident in decisions about which direction the country should go with respect to restrictions,
So what is their report likely to show?
A meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) next Thursday is said to be important.
Members will have a detailed report before them analyzing the spread of Omicron, including patterns of infection, how sick it is making people, their vaccination status and admission to intensive care.
Until this week, there was a cautionary tale about how the high number of cases in the knock-on hospital would play out, but another week’s data will provide more insight.
reach the summit
This month’s daily cases have been eye-watering, reaching an epidemic record of 26,122 last Saturday.
The actual figure is much higher and it is believed that 500,000 were infected last week.
Of all the cases of Covid-19, around 26 pc have occurred since January 1 and HSE estimates that one in 16 has a positive PCR test in two weeks on Thursday.
However, there have been some early signs in recent days that Omicron’s march is slowing down. The number of patients referred by GPs has fallen and the official daily cases dropped to 17,065 yesterday.
The positivity rate fell below 50 pc among people who got tested on Thursday for the first time since New Year’s Eve.
Like in previous waves, the hope is that Omicron will gradually run out of enough people to infect.
One of the measures that will affect the decision will be how long it will take to reach the peak and this week the prediction was that it will slow down.
We have also seen in other waves how an initial drop can be followed by a plateau and a flattening along the way.
The hope is that with such a high natural immunity, the number of infected and the vaccine-induced protection will leave less room for Omicron to move. However, the question still remains as to how many times a person can get Omicron.
decoupling cases and admitted to hospital
Omicron is lighter than Delta but is also being touted as the world’s first version of a post-vaccine.
This time last year, when only a handful of people were vaccinated, this country had 50 hospitalizations for every 1,000 daily cases. It has now failed to contain between five and 10 new admissions per 1,000 daily cases.
There was good data yesterday from the Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland, with doctors seeing 453 patients with covid in the hospital this week. They were found to have relatively low levels of serious illness or dependence on oxygen support. Seventy percent of patients who had the virus admitted they were not on oxygen support, “reflecting a less severe form of the disease seen during previous waves”. They found that 42 out of 130 did not need oxygen or ventilation.
While the total number of patients admitted with the virus is high in Ireland, the number of patients with severe disease requiring oxygen support is relatively small.
This data supports the important role of vaccination in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 disease or those positive for the virus, they concluded.
Although about 30 percent of the people who are in hospital with COVID are for other diseases, rather than direct complications, the number is still over 1,000.
There were 83 Covid patients in intensive care yesterday, a decline of nine. While stable, it still accounts for a substantial number of precious intensive care beds.
non covid Care
The number of COVID patients may be less than expected, but Omicron is causing major disruption to hospitals.
While staff shortages may ease following the easing of isolation and close contact rules, the logistics around infection control That is, hospitals are struggling with non-Covid care.
This week the decision will have to be made on how succinctly elective care can be presented.
There is untold suffering among waiting list patients and HSE’s modest goal of reducing queues for surgeries and outpatient clinics has been missed.
High on this week’s agenda will be whether restrictions such as the 8 pm closure for hospitality should be eased or removed from next month.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said this would be looked into. They will have to weigh how the earlier closing time has had an impact on reducing the spread of the virus and whether extending it could make some progress or slow the expected reduction in cases.
Their hands are strengthened by the high level of take-up of booster vaccines.
The safety staples of mandatory mask wearing and social distancing will be around for some time.
About 59 percent of adults here have had a booster vaccine.
More than 700,000 people eligible for a booster vaccine have not yet been exposed, although a significant number of these may not do so for three months due to infection.
It’s still unclear how long ago Booster shots reduce immunity and if a fourth jab will be needed.
David Nabarro of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that “the way this virus is behaving is that it builds up and then grows quite dramatically, and then it comes down again, and then rises again every three or four months”.
We can expect more variants and they may not be mild or less severe. There will be no answer for future scenarios next week, but we need a hospital plan soon that is ready for what is to come.