Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has defended the decision to pause the lifting of Covid-19 regulations saying “when things looked good there was a public health rationale for accelerating therefore we did accelerate, now that the R rate has gone back up public health advice is to slow it back down again.
“Nobody wants these restrictions in place,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
In relation to advice on the wearing of face coverings, Mr Donnelly said “we will bring through regulations, but the advice is that we all begin to do that now.
"Something similar to public transport, the reality is, the huge solidarity, the understanding we all have of the awful consequences of this, the horrific human toll that this virus takes, means that the first day on the buses nine out of 10 passengers arrived with a face mask, the one in 10 some can't wear them, some simply forgot them on the first day, if we continue as we have been my hope is that there will be no need for enforcement whatsoever, we are in this together, we will continue to suppress the virus together.”
The Minister said that the Government is taking Nphet advice to limit gatherings in homes to no more than 10 visitors.
“It's not 10 people, so if there's five of you living in the house then you can be up to 15. Nphet have said for no more than four additional households which means essentially whoever lives in the house plus up to 10 people.
“There have been some very serious clusters that the public health officials are very worried about - they walked me through some of the cases, it's really very sobering.
"What you can have is one person who is infected, but they are asymptomatic, they don't know they are, they go to a house party, everyone's talking loudly, there's plenty of droplets going out into the air, you can end up with 20 to 30 people walking out of that house infected.
“What we want to do is make sure everybody is protected. It can be days and days before any of those people know that they are infected.”
With regard to the delay in the opening of pubs, Mr Donnelly explained that Nphet had looked at the international evidence as to what had happened in other countries.
“What it tells them is that when restaurants opened and when restaurants were following the public health guidelines that we have here and are being followed here, it hasn't led to an increase in cases, the evidence on pubs is different, the evidence internationally that Nphet have seen is that when the pubs have opened it has led to a serious rise.
“From an epidemiological perspective they're not saying it's restaurants and gastro pubs, they're saying it's restaurants and if the pubs can act as restaurants then they're restaurants, based on the R-value, based on what they're saying abroad now is not the time to open the pubs and we just need to bring it back to the original start date.”
Nightclubs were a different proposition, he said. All pubs were being treated the same, that was the public health advice.
“This is not done lightly, we really do understand that there are publicans all across this country who are waiting and hoping that they'll be open on Monday.
"It hasn't been done lightly. But the public health advice is if we were to open now it could materially add to the possibility of a second wave and that's just a risk we can take.
“There is some thinking going on now about the long term strategy because unfortunately, we're going to be living with this awful disease probably for some time.
"Certainly, the options of regional variance are being looked at, right now the advice from Nphet is that it applies across the country.”
The lifting of the remaining restrictions would depend on the R rating he said.
“It's not one number, it's not one fact, it's in the round, where are we going, are we moving away from a second wave or are we moving towards a second wave.”