Taoiseach defends Covid response as Ireland’s infection rate highest in world


The Taoiseach has defended the Government’s response to the pandemic after figures revealed Ireland has the world’s highest incidence of confirmed new Covid-19 cases per million people.

In the last week, Ireland has had 10,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus per million people, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Ireland’s rate of Covid-19 has skyrocketed in recent weeks, which has been blamed on the lifting of restrictions over the Christmas period and the prevalence of the highly transmissible UK variant of the virus.

It has put enormous pressure on the health service, with ambulances lined up outside Letterkenny University Hospital and a warning from Health Service Executive (HSE) boss Paul Reid that the situation is “now beyond strain”.

Speaking on Monday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin rejected an assertion that he should be “ashamed” of his Government’s performance.

“I’m not and I think that’s an unfair presentation and assertion,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

Mr Martin said he believes the Government has “always responded effectively to the latest wave and to the latest surge of this particular virus”.

He continued: “Of course we accept our responsibilities. But we have acted at all times, I think, effectively in responding to the various waves that have emerged.

“We’re doing that very resolutely and very firmly and very clearly, with our public health colleagues, and with all of those on the front line.

“It’s very challenging and it’s very serious and our focus really is on getting this current wave under control, getting the numbers down and getting transmission of the virus down, relieving pressures on our hospitals and protecting the vulnerable and the elderly in our community.”

He added: “That’s my entire focus now. Over time, people can reflect on this and can make their observations and conclusions. But my focus now is working with my Government colleagues to deal with it.”

Ireland now ranks ahead of the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and Panama in terms of weekly cases.

Mr Martin told the programme that the UK variant of the virus was present in 45% of the most recent 92 samples that underwent additional testing.

Two weeks earlier, the variant was found in 25% of cases, and in just 9% of cases a fortnight previous to that, highlighting how quickly the strain has spread.

Meanwhile, HSE chief executive Mr Reid warned that hospital services are now “beyond strain”.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “I’ve always tried to balance #COVID19 messages. I know everyone is finding it all very tough.

“But the situation in our hospitals,(1,582 patients,145 in ICU), is now beyond strain. To avoid getting sick, protect your family & healthcare workers please, please stay at home.”

Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said January would be the darkest month the health service has faced.

Mr Varadkar warned that the third wave will be worse than the first, and said the first two months of the year will be a “very, very rocky period” for the health service.

He told Dermot And Dave on Today FM: “The best thing we can do to help is to stay at home, if at all possible, to buy us some time so that we can get the vaccine to those who need it the most.”

The Tanaiste added: “The situation is very serious, with nearly 1,600 patients in hospital at the moment, who have Covid.

“We still have over 500 beds available across the system. 127 in ICU with 38 available. So we’re very much under pressure, but we are coping.

“The worry that we have is the situation is still deteriorating.”

The latest figures on Sunday saw eight further deaths and an additional 6,888 new cases of the virus reported by the Department of Health.