As Government applied the brakes on the planned full reopening of society this Friday, the West’s largest public hospital remained in a state of crisis – dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks, large numbers of patients and lengthy wait times in its Emergency Department and postponed elective procedures.
An outbreak of Covid-19 at University Hospital Galway (UHG) was having a significant impact on critical care services, Saolta University Healthcare Group has warned.
UHG confirmed it was dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks on two wards of the city hospital. A further two wards were being used exclusively to treat Covid positive cases.
This was impacting other patients – elective procedures were postponed at UHG this week due a lack of beds.
On Monday, 41 patients with Covid-19 were being treated in UHG compared with 19 the same day last week.
Portiuncula was treating eight Covid positive patients on Monday, twice as many as last week.
There were two Covid patients in ICU in Ballinasloe and six in ICU in UHG; there were four in ICU in total at both hospitals last week.
Saolta said that people presenting at the Emergency Department in UHG were experiencing long waiting times.
“The hospital has seen a significant increase in patients presenting to the hospital and many of these patients are very sick and need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.
“As a result of the ongoing pressures and lack of bed capacity a number of elective procedures are being postponed. Patients are being contacted directly if their procedure is being postponed,” Saolta said.
Read the full story – and our latest on Covid-19 – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Anti-vaxxer’s day of court drama
By Ann Healy
An anti-vaccination campaigner was convicted and fined a total of €450 last week for breaching Covid-19 regulations after he drove more than five kilometres from his address at a time when temporary travel restrictions were in place earlier this year – and also for speeding on the same occasion.
Antonio Mureddu (44), with an address at The Headford Arms, Main Street, Headford, said he would not look for €50,000 compensation from the State for being prosecuted if the charges against him were dropped.
He also refused to accept the court’s jurisdiction and threatened to personally sue the Garda who prosecuted him.
Mureddu donned a purple, floor-length velvet cloak tied at the neck over his overcoat and pulled the pink tie he was wearing to the outside of the overcoat before entering the courtroom at Galway District Court yesterday afternoon.
He was accompanied by a woman who did wear a mask.
Mureddu faced two summonses. The first was for speeding and the second was for breaching Covid-19 regulations by leaving his place of residence without reasonable excuse after his vehicle was stopped by Garda Garrett Cafferkey at Coolagh, Oranmore, Galway, on April 10 last.
Judge John Brennan asked Mr Mureddu in the morning to wait outside until his case was called at the end of the criminal list as he was not wearing a face mask.
When the matter was called in the afternoon, Mureddu indicated he was contesting the matters.
Garda Garrett Cafferkey gave evidence he was conducting a speed check at Glenascaul, Oranmore at 1.55pm on April 10 when he detected a Corsa travelling at 134kmh in a 100kmh zone.
He followed the car in his marked patrol car and stopped it at Coolagh, Oranmore.
He spoke to the accused, who was driving the car. He said Mureddu refused to show him his driving licence until he showed him his Garda ID, which he did. Mureddu then produced a full driving licence to him.
Garda Cafferkey said the Covid five-kilometre travel limit was in force at the time and he demanded to know where the driver was going and where had he had come from.
He said Mureddu refused to tell him. He said he outlined the regulations that were in place for non-essential travel to Mureddu.
“He wouldn’t tell me. I told him I would issue a speeding ticket and he said he would accept the speeding ticket.
“I also told him a fixed charge penalty notice for breaching Covid regulations would be issued if he didn’t inform me of the reasons for his journey, to see if it was essential.
“Mr Mureddu then said to me ‘I will bring you to the Supreme Court. It will cost you money and your job, I swear to you.’ He said he could go wherever be wanted,” the Garda said.
He later issued two fixed charge penalty notices – and neither were paid, he said.
In reply to Inspector Finbarr Philpott, prosecuting, Garda Cafferkey said he was in uniform and driving a marked patrol car that day.
He said he received registered correspondence from the accused last Tuesday which contained a number of documents. The first document was a contract in red lettering.
“A purported contract,” Judge Brennan interjected. Garda Cafferkey agreed.
He said the document contained a number of points.
The first stated “Any man or woman acting as an agent for the Irish State who wishes to interfere with my God-given right to travel peacefully, he or she agrees to pay me €50,000.”
The next document contained the terms and conditions for entering into this contract, followed by copies of ’Living Testimony’ which was an affidavit, with a picture of Mureddu on it, in English and Irish.
The correspondence also contained copies of the tickets issued by Garda Cafferkey.
Another document was written in Italian, which Garda Cafferkey said he did not understand, while another document outlined copyright laws.
Judge Brennan remarked the same documents had been handed into the court by Mureddu.
He had been handed an additional document, he said, which was a notice challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Mureddu said he had sent copies of the same documents to the Supreme Court, the Garda Commissioner and to all the authorities in the country, so that everyone would know he was acting in honour.
“I am not committing any crime. I didn’t create any injury or any problems to anybody in my travelling,” he said.
“And you’re demanding money from the State; you’re demanding compensation?” Judge Brennan asked.
Mureddu said he would not be demanding compensation if the case against him was dismissed.
He confirmed to the judge he was Italian and that he was not giving jurisdiction to anybody in the room to judge him.
Judge Brennan said he appreciated there was a constitutional right to liberty, but the State had to deal with a very difficult situation due to the pandemic where emergency regulations had to be introduced to protect society and they were only temporary and would be removed in due course.
He told Mureddu, that having read his documents and listened to his submissions, he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the State had proven its case and he was convicting him.
Insp. Philpott said Mureddu had two previous convictions, including a speeding conviction recorded in January 2019, for which he was fined €500, and in 2011 he was convicted of dangerous driving at Galway Circuit Court.
Mureddu interjected Garda Cafferkey was ‘playing God’.
In reply to the judge, Mureddu confirmed he was unemployed, paying rent and in receipt of social welfare.
Judge Brennan said he knew Mureddu felt strongly about these matters before convicting and fining him €150 for this, his second speeding offence.
He then imposed a €300 for breaching the temporary Covid regulation in place at the time, which he said reflected the serious nature of the offence.
He gave Mureddu six months to pay both fines as he was unemployed and granted him leave to appeal the convictions.
Booster clinic extends opening to tackle queue
By Dara Bradley
Opening hours for this weekend’s walk-in Covid-19 booster vaccination clinic at Ballybrit Racecourse have been extended to sate a surge in demand for a third dose.
Over 1,000 people aged 60-69 flocked to the Racecourse walk-in clinic last Sunday, where many reported queues of up to two hours to get their booster jab.
Many more reported left without getting a jab after lengthy waits in the queue. There were also reports of long traffic delays in the area.
Saolta confirmed to the Connacht Tribune that walk-in booster clinic was “much busier than anticipated”, which “resulted in a build-up in the queue and regrettably delays for some people waiting”.
“A number of improvements have been made ahead of the walk-in clinic this weekend including extending the clinic to a full day, which should help reduce the waiting time,” a spokesperson said.
The next walk-in clinic is this Saturday, from 9am-5pm – more than double last week’s hours.
It is for people who have reached an interval of at least 150 days since their second dose vaccine or have reached the interval of three months since receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
As well as the walk-in clinic, the centre will continue to invite people aged 60-69 by text to scheduled appointments, Saolta said.
“The walk-in booster clinics are a further opportunity for people who are unable to make their scheduled appointments, to get their booster dose.
“It is difficult to anticipate how many people will arrive at the same time and we ask people to bear with us if there is a queue. Staff will be working really hard to make sure that people waiting get their booster dose as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.
She said planning was underway to extend the booster vaccination clinics for people with some underlying conditions and those aged in their fifties.
Meanwhile, the reaction to the decision to change advice on mask wearing among children has been mixed.
The HSE advice had been that masks were not recommended for children under the age of 13. But from this week, children aged nine and over, and pupils in third-sixth class, are required to wear face coverings in school.
Guidance sent to principals said that children without masks could be refused entry.
Students who cannot wear masks will require “medical certs” for exemptions, which has been described as a waste of GPs’ time. Ballygar Dr Martin Daly said this would “shift the onus onto overstretched GPs”.
Primary teacher union INTO reiterated its call for contact tracing to be reinstated in schools to give a clearer picture of transmission. WHO advice is that the decision to use masks for children aged six to eleven should balance factors such as the level of transmission of the virus, and the potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development.
An average of 200 people every day in the past fortnight have tested positive for the virus – that’s 2,789 confirmed cases in two weeks to Tuesday. It gives a 14-day incidence rate of 1080.8 per 100,000, a slight reduction on last week.
Ballinasloe electoral area had the highest 14-day incidence rate in County Galway with 1,458 cases per 100,000 people. It was 1,032 in Athenry/Oranmore; 791 in Conamara North; 670 in Conamara South; 1,318 in Gort/Kinvara; 1,240 in Loughrea; and 750 in Tuam.
The incidence in Galway City Central was 1,498 per 100,000; it was 1,067 in City East and 1,154 in City West. On Monday, 30 patients with Covid-19 were in local hospitals, including 22 in University Hospital Galway – seven admitted in the previous 24 hours – and eight in Portiuncula. There were five Covid patients in the two hospital’s Intensive Care Units, and both UHG and Ballinasloe had no ICU beds available.
Two more Covid deaths in Galway have been recorded in early November, bringing the total to 147. The Central Statistics Office said there were 415 Covid-19 deaths in the West, which includes Mayo (201) and Roscommon (67). That’s up seven in a fortnight.
A pop-up test centre operated in Tuam Stadium again on Monday and Tuesday for a third week. Some 1,380 people were tested over four days of the first two weeks. Testing continues at Distillery Road at NUIG and at Galway Airport by appointment only due to high demand.
Despite shortages of tests in other counties, on Tuesday afternoon Galway Airport had over 600 appointment slots available, NUIG had over 30, and Tuam Stadium had 172.
Breda Crehan-Roche, Chief Officer, Community Healthcare West said: “It is still important to combine basic public health measures – wear a mask, wash your hands and if you are indoors ventilate the space well. Let us all work together and continue to break the chain of transmission of the disease.”
Government came under fire for scrapping plans for a subsidy scheme for cheaper antigen tests. Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the U-turn by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was “a serious dereliction of duty”. New Government rules require anyone arriving into Irish airports from this Friday to have antigen or PCR tests.
Meanwhile, overcrowding has eased at UHG compared with last month but it remains an issue at Portiuncula. On Monday there were 15 patients on trolleys in Ballinasloe, according to INMO Trolley Watch – that’s five more than in UHG, which is far bigger in size. On Tuesday, patients on trolleys had dropped to six in Portiuncula and risen to 15 in UHG.
Just the spirit
A former grain mill in the village of Ahascragh is being converted into a distillery thanks to Gareth and Michelle McAllister who have big plans to meet growing demand for craft Irish whiskey and gin in the Far East as well as closer to home. They are also developing a visitor centre in the distillery and are currently offering people a chance to invest in their company as DECLAN TIERNEY learns.
A product that will be developed in the East Galway village of Ahascragh will find its way Asia and various other parts of the world following a courageous initiative by a couple who aim to become huge names in the distillery industry.
Given their thirst for the distilling of craft whiskey and gin, Dublin couple Gareth and Michelle McAllister are set to put the tiny village on the international map by transforming an old corn mill into a major employer as well as a tourist attraction as part of a €10 million investment.
Works have already started on giving the old mill, previously an ivy-clad eyesore in the village, a brand-new look and the couple hope to go into full production by the end of next year – ready for the 2022 Christmas market.
Employment has already commenced in the marketing and administration end of the distillery and when it’s in full production, Gareth and Michelle will create around 40 new jobs in the village.
They will be producing two whiskey products and one gin when they’re at full capacity but already they are bottling a single malt under their own product name. This is currently on the market . . . and is proving particularly popular, despite limited availability at the moment.
The distillery is a labour of love for Gareth, a chemical engineer by profession, and Michelle who worked as a psychologist but is now operating the café in Ahascragh that they opened earlier this year to coincide with the launch of the distillery.
Both worked in China for seven years in different roles and while there, they discovered that there was a big demand for Irish-made spirits. They are now determined to explore this particular niche in the market as well as developing outlets across Europe and in the market here at home.
“This has been foremost in our plans and aspirations for some considerable time,” explained Gareth. “Since our time in Asia and Singapore we discovered that Irish spirits were a much sought-after product. As part of my training as a chemical engineer, distilling formed part of this.”
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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