Amid growing alarm that the surge in hospital admissions of Covid-19 patients will push the health sector beyond its limits, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou on Monday urgently appealed to the public to do its bit by helping to contain the outbreak before the situation becomes unmanageable.
The minister’s statement came as the state health services organisation Okypy scrambled for to bring in medics from the private sector to bolster staffing at the intensive care units saying that overstretched public doctors needed help.
The number of hospitalised coronavirus patients has spiralled to more than 150, the highest since the start of the outbreak. Even more alarmingly, numbers have also surged in the hospital’s intensive care units.
Officials are bracing for a further spike, reflecting the large number of positive coronavirus cases of the past weeks.
Earlier on Monday, the medical director of the Famagusta reference hospital Dr Amalia Hadjiyianni said state hospitals treating coronavirus patients have almost reached their full capacity.
A total of 153 people with coronavirus are currently being treated in different state hospitals around the island, 51 of whom are in serious condition. Of those, 28 people are in intensive care and 23 in high dependency units.
In a strongly worded appeal, Ioannou said the health system was under “suffocating pressure” because of the large number of hospital admissions, particularly to the ICU.
He said he had been briefed by Okypy that the situation was “extremely difficult and could at any point cease being manageable.”
Ioannou said he was particularly concerned by the large increase of ICU patients. “We are approaching the red line of the system’s capacities, both in infrastructure and in human resources,” he said.
Okypy was implementing a special plan to increase Covid-19 beds, but should cases remain so high on a daily basis, inevitably the capacity to cover all the needs will be exhausted. Moreover, new Covid-19 beds limits public hospital’s capabilities to care for patients with other serious health problems.
Okypy has asked for private doctors, primarily pneumologists and pathologists, under a decree requiring them to offer their services, to cover the increased needs.
The next few days are extremely critical, given that the high number of cases recently will translate into new hospital admissions. For hospitals to cope, everyone must do their bit to curb the spread of the virus and reduce the number of cases.
“This is the only way to keep the situation under control,” he said as he appealed to everyone to be particularly careful, to comply with personal hygiene rules and restrict their contacts so as to stop the spread of the virus and reduce the number of cases and hospitalisations.
Euphoria over the start of vaccinations should not lead to complacency as the process will take months and it is essential to remain alert to avert the worst.
He also urged the public to carry out preventive checks with the rapid tests offered free by the health ministry in all districts as the timely detection and isolation of coronavirus cases is decisive in efforts to contain the further spread of the virus.
The Famagusta hospital is currently treating 71 patients, the highest number since the pandemic outbreak in March. Six of them are in the high dependency unit, while seven of the patients have come from nursing homes.
The hospital has the capacity to treat up to 75 people, according to Hadjiyianni.
Meanwhile, member of the health ministry’s epidemiological team Dr Leondios Kostrikis also warned the public about the alarming condition of state hospitals.
There are limits. The [health] system cannot handle continuously receiving new patients, especially those who need intensive care, Kostrikis told the CyBC.
According to the virology professor, the problem is the lack of specialist doctors to treat these patients.
“It is not exactly the number of beds or medical instruments. The issue is the number of specialist doctors. The number is very limited in Cyprus,” he said.
Although vaccinations started in Cyprus on Sunday, according to Kostrikis it will take until the end of summer for approximately 75 per cent of the population to have been vaccinated in order to create herd immunity.
“We have a long way to go,” Kostrikis said, adding that “as long as people get vaccinated, we will start to see the reverse course of the pandemic”.
Vaccinations at care homes continued on Monday after a launch of the programme on Sunday which included 20 health professionals of the Famagusta reference hospital.
“Despite the fact that in the beginning there was some hesitation from workers to receive the vaccine, now with the start of the vaccination, they are asking to get vaccinated,” Hadjiyianni said.
The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrived in the country on Saturday. The first recipients of the vaccine are health professionals and those aged over 75.
According to Okypy’s spokesperson Charalambos Charilaou, the aim is for all health professionals to receive the vaccine.