Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that the Covid-19 surge has not yet come, as it emerged that the stay-at-home lockdown and related restrictions may be extended beyond Easter.
It came as Tánaiste Simon Coveney called for a community response to the pandemic and said that, despite the increase in bed capacity in hospitals, “we don’t know yet whether it’s going to be enough”.
The latest figures show a further 13 deaths from Covid-19 and 402 new cases — the latter being the highest daily number since the outbreak began here.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said he would “not be surprised” if the current restrictions will have to be extended.
He was echoing the views of the Tánaiste, who said: “I think people do need to realise that these restrictions may go on for some time, and it’s wrong to put a timeline on it.
“We’ve set an initial period, but I think it may well be that we will need to go beyond that initial deadline.”
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar warned: “The surge has not yet come.”
He also admitted there had been difficulties in ramping up testing.
“We are not where we want to be when it comes to testing, and we are not where we thought we’d be a few weeks ago,” he said.
With testing now running at around 2,500 tests a day, the Taoiseach said issues over the shortage of reagents would be resolved in the coming days and health officials are to prepare a roadmap by Monday “on where we need to be on testing”.
He also said that childcare provision for healthcare workers would be addressed in the coming days, most likely by providing the service in the home rather than opening any creches.
Dr Holohan said there was “clear evidence” that we were flattening the curve, but warned that it would be the end of next week before the impact of the latest restrictions would be seen. He said that, if at that stage the daily increase in cases was below 10%, that would be a positive development, but that a higher rate would be challenging.
A total of 98 people have now died from Covid-19 in Ireland, and there are 3,849 confirmed cases here, including 160 clusters.
Earlier in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly referred to a nursing home when he said 70 staff and 19 residents had tested positive. Four residents had died, he said.
It also emerged that 98 prisoners are in isolation in the country’s jails over Covid-19 measures — but none have yet tested positive for the virus.
Two prison officers — one in Cork and one in Portlaoise — have tested positive for Covid-19 so far.
Dr Holohan, who himself sought medical treatment earlier this week, said he was “concerned” that when he attended a hospital recently, he found an empty waiting room.
“Many people are staying away when they simply should not be staying away,” he said. “Do not ignore symptoms.”
In another development, 1,169 nurses have joined the nursing and midwifery register to fight Covid-19 since March 1, the Nursing and Midwifery Board have confirmed.
The Government also confirmed that new Garda powers contained in emergency Covid-19 legislation passed by the Dáil last week have yet to be transferred to the force. The powers relate to enforcing limits on public gatherings.
- The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
- Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999