The head of the HSE has urged businesses and the public not to throw away the progress made in suppressing the spread of Covid-19 amid signs that compliance with public health restrictions is beginning to crumble.
In the wake of the Government’s new Covid-19 plan, which extends the current lockdown to at least April 5, some businesses reopened this week in defiance of level 5 restrictions, while others have threatened to reopen in the coming weeks and months regardless of public health advice.
One Dublin beautician was arrested for breaching Covid-19 regulations after opening her salon this week, while a number of pubs in the capital have also begun serving takeaway pints against health advice.
Cork businesswoman Susan Ryan told theshe intends reopening her city salon within days, saying the Government has not provided businesses with a clear roadmap.
Killarney-based restaurateur Paul Treyvaud, who owns Treyvaud's Restaurant, also threatened to reopen in defiance of restrictions.
Mr Treyvaud said "no matter what" he planned to reopen his restaurant on July 1.
"I’ve done the maths and if I’m not open by then, everything is gone," he said.
Elsewhere, a group calling itself Reopening Tralee has been distributing leaflets and sending emails to encourage companies to open their doors on March 1.
Amid the rising backlash, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the country was at a “delicate phase” and could not afford to waste the progress made to date.
Covid-19 still presents a “high risk”, Mr Reid said, reminding businesses of the implications of flouting the restrictions.
"It is a breach of the law. It is a difficult period for everybody, the further extension of the restrictions is a challenge for everybody,” he said.
"I do appreciate it is very difficult for everybody but we would be throwing away all of the good work, everything we have achieved in the last few weeks in a very difficult time. And, as we know, the virus outmanoeuvres us when we drop our guard."
Echoing this sentiment, deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said he understood the “profound impact” that the pandemic was having on the business community but appealed to people stick with current measures.
“I know it is very frustrating for people, I know it is very difficult for people but unfortunately, until we get the case numbers down, if we were to release and open some of those sectors of society back up, we would see a very swift rebound in the number of cases,” Dr Glynn said.
In a more positive development, there are early signs the vaccination programme is reducing Covid infection rates among nursing home residents and healthcare workers.
Comparing current infection rates in nursing homes to early January, Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group chair Professor Philip Nolan said there has been a “sharp” change for the better.
“We have seen a very sudden and sharp decrease in the number of cases … a much sharper decrease than would be explained by the decrease in the community,” Mr Nolan said.
The evidence is “indicating the protective effects of the vaccine", he said.
HSE National Immunisation Office director Dr Lucy Jessop said: “The vaccine is already having a significant impact on our healthcare workers. In the last week in January almost 1,400 healthcare workers contracted Covid-19, that number was less than 300 last week.”