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5,800 HSE staff off work due to infection or close contact status

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One in every 25 Health Service Executive (HSE) staff is currently off work due to Covid-19 infection or being a close contact of a case.

The 5,800 employees who are absent amounts to 4 per cent of total staffing and compares to 1,800 a month ago.

About 1,000 procedures have had to be cancelled due to the surge in cases, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Wednesday.

HSE staff are exhausted, frustrated and tired due to the pandemic, Mr Reid told the Oireachtas health committee. He pointed out staffing numbers have increased by 11,500 and beds by 800 since the start of last year.

A further 50 beds will be delivered by the end of this year and 296 more next year, HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said.

Up to 350 ICU beds are to be made available under surge capacity during the current wave of Covid-19, Mr Reid told the committee.

Normally, about 300 beds are available, but this number is being increased in consultation with hospitals, who are still working through these arrangements, he said.

Mr Reid acknowledged difficulties people are having in being tested for the virus, but said 82 per cent were getting “first-day” appointments.

He said 210,000 PCR tests have been carried out in the past week, with a record 26,000 performed on one day. A “phenomenal” one million tests have been completed in the past six or seven days.

Further health staff have been redeployed to testing, and Defence Forces staff have also been redeployed to this work, he added. The HSE has taken capacity from private operators performing 1,000 tests a day, and major automation is being looked at, he said.

A total of 560,000 boosters have so far been administered, and a further 70,000 third shots given to people who are immunocompromised, Mr Reid said.

The administration of boosters to over-80s and residents of long-term care facilities is substantially complete, he said. More than half – 190,000 – of over-70s have been boosted along with 43,000 over-60s.

In the first week of administering boosters to over-60s, only 25,000 met the criterion of five months having passed since their primary vaccine, he pointed out. But this figure increased to 120,000 by the second week of the rollout.

Mr Reid said it was intended to provide boosters to 230,000 people a week in vaccination centres, GP surgeries and pharmacies, rising to 270,000 from next week. Mass vaccination centres will administer 140,000 to 160,000, GPs will adminster 80,000, and pharmacists 20,000 to 30,000.

Boosters for those with underlying conditions are being expedited, but people in their 50s will likely only start receiving booster appointments toward the end of December, he said.

There were 130 Covid-19 patients in ICU on Wednesday, he said.

Social Democrat TD Roisin Shortall asked why half the allocated home help hours have not been used this year, when 400 people are waiting for a carer to be assigned to them, and 100 patients are waiting in hospital for the provision of home care.

Ms O’Connor said funding was “better than ever” but securing qualified carers was a “real challenge” and impacting significantly on provision.

The HSE is looking at different way of engaging carers, including an internship approach, she said.

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do I know who I am anymore?’

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When the New Zealand government announced a nationwide lockdown in response to Covid-19 in March, 2020, newly-arrived Lolsy Byrne was desperately trying to find a flight back to Ireland.

Byrne, a stand-up comedian, had come to New Zealand in March to play a festival in Dunedin. Her plan was to stay for a few months, travelling and gigging, before heading back for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Not wanting to take a flight from a medical professional or someone who was in desperate need to get home, Byrne never got a flight home. Instead, she stayed with a relative in Auckland, where she now lives.

Lolsy Byrne
Lolsy Byrne

Luckily, Byrne became trapped in a country that quickly got a handle on the virus. But being in a brand new place in the midst of all the initial pandemic chaos was challenging. “It was really difficult. When you’re on your own, you struggle to make connections, but, luckily, I was able to get involved in the comedy scene over here and they kind of embraced me with open arms and were really really supportive,” she said. “The sense of humour in New Zealand is so like the Irish sense of humour, we all love telling stories and a lot of self-deprecating humour.”

Byrne regularly plays at a Scottish-Irish comedy night for expats in Auckland, run by a Scottish comedian, who also got stuck in New Zealand when Covid broke out. “You find yourself relaxing into your accent. I tend to put on my phone voice a lot when I’m on stage so people can hear me clearly. But then when we do these Scottish and Irish gigs, all these Irish-isms start flowing out of me.”

New Zealand pursued a hardline elimination strategy early on. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s government had closed the borders to non-citizens and introduced a nationwide lockdown by March 25th, 2020. Since then, Ardern has said on numerous occasions that she would “make no apologies” for implementing strict measures to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

This is the longest time since we’ve been back. We usually go back every 18 months

New Zealand has a similar population to Ireland’s, yet 35 people died with coronavirus while 5,609 people died with the virus in Ireland. For most of the pandemic, their strategy of sharp and strict lockdowns earned New Zealand a reputation as the little island that eliminated coronavirus. New Zealanders enjoyed freedoms that few other nations could.

Seeing Ireland struggling through long lockdowns was also challenging for Byrne. She said there was a sense of guilt about leading a normal life in New Zealand, while friends and family back home were doing it tough.

Elimination strategy

However, in August, 2021, a Delta outbreak sent the nation into lockdown. By early October, Ardern had abandoned her elimination strategy, focusing instead on living with coronavirus and controlling its spread through vaccinations. 82 per cent of New Zealand’s eligible population is now fully vaccinated.

Auckland has been in lockdown since August, with restrictions now beginning to ease. Byrne says she’s watching her friends in Dublin going out and performing again, while she’s in lockdown. Although she hadn’t planned to stay in New Zealand for so long, or to live through a pandemic there, she says she feels “ridiculously fortunate and lucky” and wouldn’t change her “strange position “ for the world.

At the moment, only citizens are allowed to travel in and out of New Zealand. Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) for seven days is necessary for any international arrivals.

Steve Doran, from Howth, Co Dublin, says the idea of visiting home now is much more appealing now that Ireland has opened up.

But the travel restrictions would still make it very difficult for his family of four to travel back.

Steve Doran and family
Steve Doran and family

Now, with Auckland in lockdown, Doran said he was jealous watching friends of his at the Aviva when Ireland beat the All Blacks in November. An avid rugby fan, he says he would have been there without a doubt, had the travel restrictions not been in place.

Lockdown in Auckland has taken a toll on Doran and his family, especially his seven-year-old, who misses his school friends, he says. Doran also works in retail, which has just recently reopened in Auckland after months in lockdown. But he worries about potentially losing some of his colleagues who are anti-vaccination if a mandate is brought in.

Travel restrictions and uncertainty around international flights also worries Will Ward from Milltown, outside of Mullingar, who moved to New Zealand 20 years ago. Ward hasn’t been home now for more than four years. “This is the longest time since we’ve been back. We usually go back every 18 months.”

Will Ward
Will Ward

When the case numbers started rising in Ireland back at the beginning of the pandemic, Ward said he would be glued to the Irish media, checking the numbers first thing every morning. “I was really concerned about family back home. I was fearful here in New Zealand, but not for New Zealand, more for family back home,” he said.

When lockdown ended in Auckland in 2020 and Ward started going on trips, camping or hiking, he would ask his family if they wanted photos or not. There was a sense of guilt; he didn’t want to rub his freedom in his family’s faces. “They were living in this vortex of despair and hopelessness and that was concerning because here in New Zealand we were living pretty a carefree existence.”

On a positive note, Ward says contact with his family has “exponentially jumped”.

“The contact with mum and dad has never been as regular or as positive…I think my relationship with my parents is at a deeper level than it’s ever been before.

“For two years, this mortality thing has been omnipresent: You need to say stuff now.”

Kilcastle’s a very small community and even though they’re not minding you, they are in a way. We were brought up as a community

But with travel restrictions still in place, he’s still unsure about when he’ll be able to get back to Ireland. “Not knowing now when I’m going to get back and give mum and dad a hug, that’s the key thing. People are getting older.”

Ward says he’s been reflecting on Ireland and his Irish identity a lot more in the past few years.

When he sees new generations of Irish people now, he’s struck by a “confidence, a self-assuredness” that he said didn’t really exist in his or his parents’ generation. “I started seeing almost like a non-acceptance of victimhood…just a proud nation to be Irish rather than necessarily a connection to struggle,” he said.

Identity

Anne Marie O’Neill, from Kilcastle, Co Clare, has been in New Zealand for nine years.

O’Neill says she lost her home, her job, and went through a divorce during the last recession in Ireland.

Ann Marie O’Neill
Ann Marie O’Neill

She rekindled a relationship with a man she’d known all her life and together they sold everything they had left and moved to Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island.

O’Neill left Ireland after her mother died and says she hasn’t had much desire to move back to Ireland since emigrating. “For me going home isn’t a big deal but what I’ve lost is that connection: do I know who I am anymore?”

O’Neill says she missed feeling comfortable in her surroundings and not having to constantly “tell her story.”

“Kilcastle’s a very small community and even though they’re not minding you, they are in a way. We were brought up as a community.”

In March, 2021, O’Neill’s brother, who she was extremely close with, died of cancer. In the months leading up to his death, O’Neill said he became uncomfortable with carers coming to his house during the pandemic and that he’d also become dependent on the pain medication he was on. She managed his care via WhatApp or Skype calls, calling for hours each morning and evening.

In his final weeks, O’Neill took time off work and “sat with him 24/7 on Skype… we just let it run.”

She said they prayed, played music, and organised his funeral together.

When he died, O’Neill couldn’t leave the country for the funeral. She watched it on a WhatsApp video call, although she said she just wanted to be home and to be immersed in the grieving process.

“It stopped me from embracing my brother’s final days and death with other people. I wanted to be there and I wanted to be proud to be his only sister walking behind the coffin. I couldn’t do that for him.”

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‘Colour drenching’ interiors trend sees walls, ceiling and woodwork painted the SAME colour

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Walls, ceiling and woodwork all painted in the same tone? It’s a bold approach, but the trend for ‘colour drenching’ is taking hold.

‘Softly, softly’ has largely been the approach to painted walls in recent years, but that’s about to change. 

Many of us who spent more time at home during the pandemic experienced a desire to express ourselves through our interiors, and paint colour is an easy way to inject personality.

Blended: A dining room drenched in shades of blue. It's a bold approach but the trend for 'colour drenching' is taking hold, according to interiors experts

Blended: A dining room drenched in shades of blue. It’s a bold approach but the trend for ‘colour drenching’ is taking hold, according to interiors experts

‘We’re seeing a more liberal use of a single colour in our recent projects,’ says Rosie Ward, creative director at Ward & Co. 

‘Known as ‘colour drenching’, the concept might seem daunting at first, but when executed thoughtfully, it can give a home a wonderful sense of cohesion, character and flow as well as creating a surprisingly calming atmosphere.’

Select a shade 

Whether you choose a soothing mid-tone or a bold, all-enveloping colour, the idea is to drench your space in one hue — or tonal variations of it — from walls and ceiling to woodwork, the inside of doorways, window frames and even radiators.

‘Using a single shade in this way adds a feeling of grandeur as well as providing a chic, minimalist base,’ says Benjamin Moore’s Helen Shaw.

‘Varying levels of saturation can be a great way to take your home from bland to bold, as well as instantly shifting a room’s dimensions.’

 If your home lacks features, colour drenching is a great way to add impact.’

Roby Baldan, interior designer 

Colour drenching can work with any colour, but it does require thought and a full-on rather than half-hearted approach. Deep shades of blue or green can work beautifully in kitchens; blood-red can be enlivening in studies, cloakrooms and cosy living spaces — especially those that face north. 

For a subtle approach, a dusty pink drench works beautifully in sitting rooms and hallways, and pairs naturally with aged brass or gold fittings.

‘Using the same shade throughout helps flatten less appealing features, like radiators, making them disappear into the background,’ says interior designer Roby Baldan. 

‘A single shade makes the perimeter of the room recede and everything else stand out. In period homes, you can use a different tone to highlight architectural elements for a look that’s both modern and dramatic.

‘If your home lacks features, colour drenching is a great way to add impact.’

Work it like a pro

There are a few things to bear in mind to make this look a success.

First, choose the right tone. ‘Bold, saturated jewel greens and teals work very well,’ says Crown’s Justyna Korczynska. ‘Dark greys to near black and deep navy shades are also good choices. But avoid super-brights, as they can be overpowering.’

If you are a little hesitant, start with a small space such as a cloakroom.

‘Select three variations of your chosen colour, ranging from pale to deep,’ advises Roby. ‘Look at the amount of natural light available. Some rooms are suited to pale colours, while others need deep shades.

‘If the room gets plenty of light, select the palest shade as the primary wall colour, choosing darker tones for features. If the room is dark, use the darker shades as the main colour and the palest for the trim.’

How to coordinate 

A fashion-forward option is to complement colour drenched walls with furniture for bold cohesion. This is a look that works in kitchens too — deVol’s new Heirloom range looks great in a deep burgundy finish against pale pink walls.

Sometimes, picking out a colour from a key piece of artwork is all it takes to kickstart your scheme.

Furniture, curtains, cushions, lamps, rugs, accessories and even flowers can be used to intensify the look, but stick to no more than a couple of different colours to avoid visual overload. 

This is a statement trend that’s all about sticking to your guns — commit to the look fully and you won’t go wrong.

What your home needs is a… festive table runner 

Detail: The Nathalie Lete Table Runner costs £58 (anthropologie.com)

Detail: The Nathalie Lete Table Runner costs £58 (anthropologie.com)

Some people refuse to step into Christmas until the last minute. Others deck the halls at the earliest opportunity. 

If you prefer the festive middle ground, but still want to bring cheer to your interior before you break out the baubles, your home needs a Christmas table runner.

If you like an understated Yuletide style, the £14.95 Not On The High Street beige linen runner decorated with snowflakes should suit.

H&M Home’s £6 plain red runner would serve as a base for greenery, colourful napkins and candlesticks. 

If you want more adornment, options include the £58 Nathalie Lete Table Runner. Wayfair has a £13.99 runner with a grey stag’s head.

But there are also opportunities to go over the top. At Lakeland, you can find a £14.99 gold glitter runner while Marks & Spencer can supply a £25 runner with sequins in red or white, or another, in red and grey and also costing £25, with lights operated by batteries. Ho, ho, ho.

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Elderly man who remained unidentified in psychiatric hospital for 30 years has died

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An elderly man who remained unidentified in a psychiatric hospital here for 30 years has died and a DNA sample taken post-mortem is now being used in a bid to identify him.

Believed to be aged in his eighties or nineties, the man died at the hospital, which cannot be identified by High Court order, on September 23rd.

After his death was notified to the relevant coroner, he authorised the taking of a DNA sample for the purpose of establishing the man’s identity and gardai are now using the sample in an effort to identify the man.

He was made a ward of court in May 2020 year because his health was declining.

He was first admitted to the hospital after being taken there by gardai in the mid 1980s.

He was reported to be living “a hermit’s life” and sleeping rough in a bus shelter with a dog whom he said he had “on loan”. He also referred to living in Dublin “for years”.

At some point after his admission, he was given a name and estimated date of birth of 1930.

Despite some efforts to establish his true identity and find a next of kin, he essentially remained a ‘John Doe’. He had a history of mental illness, along with physical health conditions.

The wardship application was initiated by the HSE because his physical health was deteriorating and he had had a number of hospital admissions.

His clinical team considered it would not be appropriate to resuscitate him should his condition deteriorate further to a point where resuscitation is required.

Comfortable

Rather than a further hospital admission, they said he should be made comfortable where he is.

The man had expressed a desire not to be sent to a general hospital should his condition deteriorate but doctors were concerned if he had capacity to make decisions about his health and wanted to ensure any decision against resuscitation should have a legal basis.

In September 2020, the High Court was satisfied, on an independent medical visitor’s report and other medical evidence, the man lacked capacity and should be taken into wardship.

His court appointed guardian, solicitor William Leahy, reported the man was incapable of giving expression to his views and appeared to have effectively made staff and other patients at the hospital his family. Staff were said to be very fond of him.

At a later hearing, for reasons including the man previously indicated to hospital staff he did not wish to be identified, the HSE’s counsel David Leahy said it was not seeking to take a DNA sample while he is still alive.

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