Coronavirus: Aim is to move from Level 5 to ‘minimum additional restrictions’

Minister says removing restrictions only achievable if ‘we all follow the basics’

Ireland's Covid-19 reproduction number, a key indicator in the spread of coronavirus, has dropped below 1 and is now calculated between 0.7 and 0.9, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has told the Oireachtas health committee. Video: Oireachtas TV

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The Government hopes to apply the “minimum additional restrictions” required to keep Covid-19 down after Level 5 measures are lifted, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

But this could only happen if “we all follow the basics” of infection control, he told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday.

Blaming a mix of “congregation and alcohol” at house parties and “sports celebrations” for the spread of the virus in recent months, he said coronavirus exploited “very small transgressions”.

“A lot of the time it was people who had followed it to the letter for seven months and then said ‘For the love of God, I just need to let loose this once’ and who then let go for one night,” he said.

The reproduction number, a key indicator of the spread of Covid-19, has dropped below 1 for the first time in four months, the committee was told.

It now stands at 0.7 to 0.9, the Minister said, compared with 1 last week. However, this is still above the 0.5 value that public health officials say is needed to drive case numbers down to double digits by next month

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed last night that the Level 5 lockdown will last for six weeks as scheduled despite case numbers dropping.

He told the weekly meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party the full period was needed to reduce the numbers sufficiently for Christmas and beyond.

He said the Government was working on compiling specific data sets on Covid levels in key sectors of the economy. This would help inform the State’s exit strategy from the severe restrictions currently in place.

Nursing homes

Mr Donnelly will on Thursday announce an additional €42 million in financial supports related to Covid-19 for nursing homes next year.

The money provided under the temporary assistance payment scheme is designed to offset the additional costs borne by private and voluntary nursing homes due to Covid, and to help those homes managing an outbreak by funding extra staff and equipment.

The funding covers the first six months of 2021, and comes on top of spending of €134.5 million under the scheme this year. The HSE separately provides personal protective equipment for the sector.

In the latest large outbreak of the virus in nursing homes, 19 residents and staff at a Co Kerry facility have tested positive, it emerged on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, eight further deaths of patients with Covid-19 and 444 new cases of the virus were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team yesterday.

The Minister said the incidence of the disease was falling in 23 of the 26 counties in the Republic. Three counties reported no new cases on Wednesday.

However, there is still concern about parts of Dublin where case numbers continue to rise or are “flatlining” rather than falling.

The number of new outbreaks in schools fell to 30 last week – midterm – compared with 46 the previous week, according to the HSE. However, the number of open investigations in the sector increased from 96 to 125 last week.

Last week, there were 320 new outbreaks linked to private houses, 16 to residential institutions and 11 to workplaces, including two in meat plants.

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