Lockdown restrictions look increasingly unlikely to be lifted in the coming weeks as health officials and senior Government figures warn against complacency in the general population.
Despite the spread of the coronavirus being “effectively suppressed”, concerns about increased transmission mean that health officials remain cautious about potentially lifting the measures, which are due to remain in place until May 5.
Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said if the call was made today, health officials “would not be recommending the loosening of restrictions”.
Dr Holohan said it is “really important” that people do not “expect” a loosening of the lockdown, which has been in place since March 27, but denied that the authorities’ message to stay at home is beginning to be ignored by a majority of the population.
His comments came as a new daily record for confirmed cases was announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). Some 936 cases of the virus were announced, bringing the overall number to 17,607. A further 28 people have died, bringing the total to 794.
Despite these increases, the reproductive rate of Covid-19 has now fallen further to between 0.5 and 1. This rate, known as R0 (R-naught), was between 0.7 and 1 last week. This means every person who contracts Covid-19 is now not expected to spread it to more than one other person.
Philip Nolan, head of the modelling division at the NPHET, said the disease has to be managed to a very low level in the community.
Prof Nolan said it is important to know “we are capable, as a population, of keeping the reproductive rate where it needs to be” before we can “imagine” lifting restrictions.
“We’re on the right track, but we’re not there yet,” Prof Nolan added.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier also warned against complacency in the coming weeks, adding that if people become lax in adhering to restrictions, control could be lost over the spread of the virus.
Health Minister Simon Harris said progress has been achieved by “staying apart and we need to continue to keep that distance”.
Mr Harris told the Dáil that additional measures may even be needed, such as further monitoring of people who arrive in Ireland to ensure they are self-isolating. These measures will be announced shortly, he said, adding that the State may have to provide accommodation if people are not in a position to self-isolate.
The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned against the removal of restrictions too quickly.
In its latest risk assessment, director Andrea Ammon said the cancellation of mass gatherings and the closures of schools and public spaces has reduced transmission by 18% in the EU/EEA and UK in the last two weeks.
“There is now significant interest in phasing out these measures, as they are highly disruptive to society,” said Ms Ammon.
“However, lifting measures too quickly, without appropriate monitoring and health systems capacity in place, may cause sudden resurgence of sustained community transmission.”
Meanwhile, students will be told their Leaving Certificate timetable on June 1. Education Minister Joe McHugh confirmed his department is planning for exams to begin on July 29.
Contingency planning is ongoing for students impacted by illness or bereavement, he added.
“We won’t go into this in a blinkered way. We are living in the real world,” he said.
Mr McHugh also confirmed fees for the State exams, which had been due in the coming weeks, would now not be due for payment until after the exams .
Mr McHugh was criticised by his Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin counterparts, who both said he had failed to provide clarity on the issue.
- Shop for essential food and household goods;
- Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
- Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
- Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
- Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing