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20th Mar 2020

“We must treat each other like pariahs” – Health expert’s stark advice on Covid-19

Dave Hanratty

RTE Prime Time coronavirus

Speaking on RTÉ Prime Time, Dr Catherine Motherway painted a tough but important picture of what we’re all facing.

191 new cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus were officially confirmed by the Department of Health on Thursday evening, 19 March.

A third death associated with the virus was also announced.

This represents a 52% rise in confirmed cases since Wednesday, bringing the total number in the Republic of Ireland to 557, amounting to an overall figure of 634 cases on the island of Ireland when Northern Ireland is factored in.

On Wednesday, Italy’s coronavirus death toll (3,405) surpassed that of China (3,132), where new announced cases are finally ceasing following months of struggle. As of Friday morning, the worldwide death toll has exceeded 10,000.

Commenting on the latest figures in Ireland, HSE Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan noted that we have yet to see the impact of social distancing measures taken by the country in the past week.

Cases are expected to rise, putting huge pressure on the healthcare system.

The HSE has received over 40,000 applications from the public in response to the crisis but everyone is urged to play their part via social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

Speaking on RTÉ Prime Time on Thursday evening, Dr Catherine Motherway, intensive care physician at University Hospital Limerick, outlined the challenge facing the entire country.

Asked by host David McCullagh how well Ireland is provided for in terms of beds by comparison to other European countries, Motherway said:

“We’re roughly at about half the European norm and we have half the beds that Italy would have. This has been a well-documented situation.”

Asked how much of a problem this is likely to be the in weeks ahead, Motherway said that it represents a “significant” one.

“Which is why we need people to take this seriously. This is a virus. We know it’s near us. We know it’s in every county in Ireland. We know that if we don’t control the surge we will have a major problem coping.

“There is seriously no healthcare service that could cope with what Italy has just gone through or indeed Wuhan in China. We have a limited amount of beds and we have been working very hard in the past number of weeks to try and increase the capacity.”

Motherway noted that the HSE has provided funding for a significant number of beds and that hospital staff across the country have identified places where patients can be treated and ventilated.

“But ideally you don’t need to get to see me,” said Motherway.

“You need not to get this disease and you need to do that by keeping away from other people. Two metres away. Stay in your own home. Wash your hands. Prevention in this instance is the best cure and that is what the people in China have taught us and the people in South Korea have taught us, that’s what Singapore has taught us.

“Once you come to the ICU; one in five patients in my intensive care unit lose their lives. I don’t know the death rate from this disease yet because it is new. You don’t need to get on a ventilator with this – you need not to get it. You need to make sure if you’re young that you don’t give it to your parents or your grandparents.

“That is really important and the only way to do that is to actually – for the entire community – to actually really think about this; keep away from each other. Essentially, we must treat each other like pariahs. That is what we have to do. All of us. It is a real change for us but we need to do that to prevent what has happened in Italy happening here.”

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