Ireland could return to phase two of restrictions if the number of cases of Covid-19 rises to more than 100 per day, national virus laboratory director Dr Cillian De Gascun has warned.
“It is just a concern at this stage,” he said on Friday. “The R-number can be affected by a few large clusters. It’s not as if cases are popping up all over the country.
"If there's widespread community transmission of the virus, then it will get into schools, into residential care facilities and into nursing homes – but if we can stamp it out in the community, that's how we protect everybody," he told RTÉ radio's Today with Sarah McInerney.
Dr De Gascun also advised young people to avoid house parties especially where there is singing after it emerged a cluster of cases had recently arisen from a microphone used for karaoke at a house party in Co Derry.
Singing was one of the easiest ways to spread the virus because of the spray of droplets, he said.
If a young person arrived at a party and saw there was unsafe behaviour, they should turn around and go home and instead organise to meet their friends for a coffee, he advised.
The public can have an impact on what happens in two to three weeks from now, he added. “We have controlled this already.”
Addressing the issue of people refusing to be tested, Dr De Gascun said it was his understanding that the authority was in place to force someone to get tested if they refused.
“It is really important that we can track this virus early, in the community. Everything needs to be considered.”
When asked about the reopening of schools he said it was important to stop looking at particular sectors at risk and instead to look at all areas of society so as to best protect everyone from the virus.
“If there is widespread community transmission it will get into schools and nursing homes. If we can stamp it out in the community that’s how we protect everybody.”
News of the Limavady, Co Derry, cluster involving a karaoke party emerged on Thursday. Nine additional cases were detected in the wider local government area that includes Limavady since Wednesday, the North's department of health statistics showed. "The Public Health Agency has identified a cluster of Covid-19 cases in the Limavady area," the North's PHA said in a statement.
“At present we can link the cases to a social gathering in a private/residential setting.
“Testing and contact tracing is being conducted to identify people who may be potentially affected to help prevent any further spread.
“With lockdown restrictions being eased, this type of occurrence is to be expected, which is why the Test, Trace and Protect programme is in place,” the statement said.
The Health Service Executive has warned hospitals will not be able to cope if a second wave of the coronavirus falls during the winter flu season, as officials said the country had already entered a "precarious position".
Current models show if the spread of the virus continues as it has in recent weeks the number of new cases could rise to over 150 a day by August 10th, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said on Thursday night.
Dr Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said such a scenario would have a "very, very negative impact on the plans to get our children back to school".
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet's modelling group, said the R-number, that is the average number of people an infected person passes the virus onto, had likely risen to 1.4, but could be as high as 1.8.
If the reproductive number was at the higher rate, the country could see 150 or 160 cases a day in three weeks’ time. “We are in a position of high uncertainty at the moment,” he said.
Speaking at the Nphet briefing, Dr Glynn said it would have been "foolhardy" to move to phase four of easing restrictions, and reopen pubs that do not serve food on Monday.
The next two weeks would be crucial in reducing spread of the virus, and the country was in a “precarious position”, he said.