'Volatile' Covid-19 situation puts reopening on April 5 in doubt

'Volatile' Covid-19 situation puts reopening on April 5 in doubt

Empty streets on day 82 of the renewed level 5 restrictions, and the advice from officials that, despite the advent of vaccines, Ireland could be facing a fourth wave of the Covid-19 virus. Picture: Sasko Lazarov

Government plans to begin the reopening of the country on April 5 are increasingly in doubt with the current Covid-19 situation being described as “volatile” and “precarious”.

Concerns are mounting that Ireland is facing into a fourth wave of the virus with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) considering “enhanced” public health measures for regions where case numbers remain stubbornly high.

The Government is considering an easing of the 5km limit on travel from the home on April 5, as well as the opening up of construction and some easing of restrictions on social gatherings.

However, senior Government sources have said that, with the upward trend in the case numbers, such commitments “cannot be guaranteed”.

An official chart showing the five-day rolling average of total Covid-19 incidence from the end of February 2020 to the middle of this month. Experts are likely to warn Micheál Martin this week that plans to reopen Ireland may have to be tempered by the prospect of a fourth wave of infections. 
An official chart showing the five-day rolling average of total Covid-19 incidence from the end of February 2020 to the middle of this month. Experts are likely to warn Micheál Martin this week that plans to reopen Ireland may have to be tempered by the prospect of a fourth wave of infections. 

Speaking at a briefing last night, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that any new localised measures would not be additional restrictions, but extra public health measures, such as testing.

'An enhanced response'

“What may be required in the coming while, however, is an enhanced response in some areas that are finding incidence particularly stubborn to get under control,” he said. “We are looking at things like testing and other measures.”

Crunch meetings will take place all of this week between the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, ministers, health experts, and members of Nphet, before Mr Martin lays out the plan for the summer next week. Dr Glynn said the next set of Nphet recommendations around restrictions will be issued on Thursday to the Government. He would not comment on what considerations the panel will take into account.

Cases soar again

However, there is mounting concern after Covid case numbers soared again over the weekend, hitting the highest daily tally in three weeks on Sunday.

It is not possible to predict where case numbers will be in two weeks' time, Dr Glynn said.

The data shows a situation that is “delicate” and “precarious” according to both Dr Glynn and Professor Philip Nolan, mainly caused by the influence of the B.117 variant.

Prof Nolan, chair of the Epidemiological Modelling Group said: “I literally don’t know [what to predict]. One of the important things to remember is it is 10 to 11 days since we first raised the alarm here that things were not going well."

Prof Nolan’s analysis of outbreaks shows:

  • Just under half are in private houses;
  • About one-tenth in an extended family;
  • Just under 10% are in workplaces;
  • 5% are in complex settings in the community;
  • 5% in childcare;
  • 5% in schools;
  • About 2.5% of the outbreaks last week were associated with religious services.

He did, however, say that if the virus can be brought under control as vaccinations continue, the summer could be similar to last year.

Hopes for summer 2021


Dr Glynn said: “I would hope that we would have a summer very much like last summer with lots of society open. The majority of sectors open and people having what would largely would be a normal day-to-day life for individuals.”

A slight increase in cases among schoolchildren is being monitored by Nphet, and they called for parents to avoid playdates and other unsupervised interactions.

Prof Philip Nolan said these outbreaks are being investigated very carefully.

Activities outside of schools

Dr Glynn said public health departments indicate the transmission comes more from activities outside of school.

He said: “We are getting reports from colleagues that some of the issues are to do with activities outside of schools. Playdates are being organised, multiple households are meeting up in social settings.”

Health minister Stephen Donnelly last night signed off on the regulations to allow its hotel quarantine scheme to commence.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he is not in favour of the EU restricting the movement of vaccines to other countries. When asked if he favours the stopping of vaccines leaving Europe, he said: “I do not, I am very much against it. 

It's absolutely vital that we keep supply chains open. 

"These companies manufacture through a global integrated supply chain. It would in my view, be counterproductive."

 

 

 

 

 

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