Coronavirus: 25 more people die in the Republic; New Garda powers come into force

Gardaí monitoring more than 1,000 locations in the State for compliance

New legal powers to curtail the movement of people mean that gardaí can now instruct someone to return home. If they fail to comply they face arrest, a fine of €2,500 or a six-month jail term. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Twenty-five more people have died from coronavirus, the second highest daily total, as the number of confirmed cases surpassed 6,000 on Wednesday.

This brings the number of coronavirus patients who have died in the Republic to 235.

Of the 25 deaths, 15 were male and 10 were female, with the median age being 80, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Eighteen of those who died had underlying health conditions. Thirteen of the deaths were located in the east, with eight in the north, two in the south and two in the west.

The number of confirmed cases increased by 365 on Wednesday, bringing the total up to 6,074.

Four out of five deaths were taking place in hospital settings, the State’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told a press briefing on Wednesday.

However, of the 235 deaths to date only 12 per cent (27) had been patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU), he said.

Overall 227 coronavirus patients had been admitted to ICU to date, and their median age was 61, Dr Holohan said. Fifty-three of those patients had been discharged, while 147 remained in intensive care, he said.

Analysis by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) of 5,981 cases reported up to Monday shows the median age of confirmed cases is 48.

There have been 1,472 Covid-19 patients hospitalised and Dublin continues to bear the brunt of cases with over half (3,268) of the national total.

Some 1,568 confirmed cases are associated with healthcare workers. However, Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, said only a portion of those cases arose from a transmission “in the context of their work in a hospital or healthcare environment.”

The number of healthcare workers who had contracted the virus during their frontline work was about six per cent of the national total, which “compares very favourably” with international rates, he said.

The latest figures come amid fears from officials of complacency setting in among the public around restrictive measures. Gardaí have been given new powers to curtail the movement of people and enforce a requirement that people remain within 2km of their home.

Dr Holohan said officials had not seen “full compliance across the whole population” with the restrictions, and so the support of the gardaí would be needed to “reinforce the message”.

The senior health official said he could not provide a “specific date” for when the restrictions on normal life could be lifted.

HSE’s national director of acute operations Liam Woods said reports that ICU’s in some Dublin hospitals were at capacity related to a pre-coronavirus “baseline,” and hospitals had prepared “surge capacity.”

The HSE had capacity to provide over 800 ICU beds during a surge, however this was contingent on the “training of nurses, ventilators and available oxygen,” he said.

Hospitals would look at transferring patients from under pressure Dublin ICU beds to available units elsewhere in the country if required, Mr Woods said.

Commenting on testing delays, Dr Holohan said some people “have waited too long to have test results back,” beyond the stated seven to 10 day wait time.

The role of testing was “more important looking forward than looking back,” he said. “It will be really important that we have a testing capacity that allows us to have a same day, or next day result of that test in all circumstances,” he said.

The NPHET noted the guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that it is currently too early to start lifting community and physical distancing measures.

Garda monitoring

It comes as gardaí have said they are monitoring more than 1,000 locations in the State for compliance with Government regulations on social distancing amid fears of public complacency about the spread of the coronavirus.

The locations include mountain walks, forest parks, beaches and others area that prove popular with people for recreational outings.

“We’ve identified a little over 1,000 locations and we have noticed a complacency, where people are beginning to get tired [of the measures],” Deputy Commissioner John Twomey told The Irish Times.

His comments echoed Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s view that “discipline is starting to slip a little”.

Gardaí were given new powers to curtail the movement of people last night due to “slippage” in terms of compliance with a requirement that people remain within 2km of their home.

Garda Commissioner Harris has sent out regulations that require people to remain at their “place of residence”. The commissioner said this means people who may have travelled to their holiday home are now required to remain within 2km of that property.

Earlier on Wednesday it was suggested that gardaí would be able to knock on holiday-home doors over Easter weekend and tell people to go home.

The commissioner said this would not be the case and the priority is to restrict movement until Monday night, that people should remain where they are.

A decision is expected on Friday on an extension of restrictions concerning movement beyond Easter Sunday. The new law allows that a person who refuses to comply with an instruction of a garda who is seeking to impose physical distancing rules is guilty of an offence. The transgression that can lead to arrest and a fine of €2,500 or a prison sentence of up to six months.

What is the timeline for these powers?

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said there would be no automatic rollover of the new Garda powers. If the restrictions on people leaving their homes is extended as expected into next week, there would be “careful consideration” around whether to also extend the new powers.

Mr Flanagan said it is important gardaí have clarity around enforcement of rules on people remaining at home. And he added that there was also a fear that some people were becoming complacent.

The Minister described the regulations as a last resort .

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told a party meeting that the public may need to be told when the restrictions introduced to deal with the crisis will be lifted.

‘Playing their part’

During a Government update on the pandemic, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan said while the majority of people are “playing their part”, there is a need to “be fair to everyone who is making an effort.”

“If we do not stay the course, all of the sacrifices already made and all of the work you’ve put in so far, and all of the work done by our front-line workers to try and suppress this virus won’t be enough,” said Ms Canavan.

She urged the public to abide by travel restrictions this bank holiday weekend.While social distancing measures have made a difference, she added, “we are not there yet”.

Ms Canavan also said the Government will move to provide certainty on the Junior and Leaving Cert exams in the coming days and she urged students to continue studying.

Health restrictions

Minister for Health Simon Harris said it is unlikely public health restrictions will be lifted at the weekend.

“If we take the foot off the pedal, the progress we’ve made would be reversed,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

Mr Harris said he did not want to see what had happened in other countries. “If we don’t make more progress we’re going to find ourselves in a difficult situation. We need to reduce the rate of growth.”

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