Covid-19: Harris urges people not to think it’s ‘mission accomplished’ ahead of next phase

With travel limit due to rise to 20km, Minister cautions against bringing virus to less affected areas

 Minister for Health Simon Harris said the idea  that ‘the virus has gone away, mission accomplished, is an enemy of the progress we have made’. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the idea that ‘the virus has gone away, mission accomplished, is an enemy of the progress we have made’. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins.

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he is concerned at the level of coronavirus cases that are being reported because of close contact with others.

Ahead of the second planned easing of restrictions next Monday, he indicated that he wants to proceed with the phased plan rather than accelerating elements of it at this time.

Mr Harris said “overall the metrics are positive in relation to the virus” with the number of people in intensive care with Covid-19 down from 99 on May 2nd to 36 or 37 on June 2nd and the number in hospital also down sharply.

“But this idea that the virus has gone away, mission accomplished, is an enemy of the progress we have made,” he said.

The Minister said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) would consider all the issues and report to the Government.

“One of the figures I will be interested in seeing tomorrow is the reproduction rate,” he said. “Once that R number stays below one it means we are suppressing the virus.

“Once it goes over one we’re in a position again where we haven’t been in many weeks where the virus is growing. The figure that concerns me a little bit is the number of confirmed cases now that come from close contacts.”

Close contact

He said recent figures show that more than 50 per cent of Covid-19 cases are a result of close contact with an infected person.

“That basically means at the moment we are largely keeping a majority of the cases confined to close contacts but obviously as we start to move again our close contacts will grow in number. So we have to proceed with caution.”

The Cabinet will meet twice this week - a routine meeting on Thursday in the Dublin Castle Conference Centre and a second on Friday in Government Buildings to decide whether to give the go ahead for the second phase of the coronavirus roadmap. The first meeting will see all members of the Cabinet gather in the same venue for the first time since the crisis began.

Mr Harris said his “gut feeling” is that the next phase of the plan to reopen the country was at the right pace, with the next stage allowing people to travel up to 20km from home to visit other households while maintaining social distancing and the reopening of retail outlets.

“My gut as of now is that if we can successfully get through phase one, and then successfully get through phase two, that would be a real confidence building block for all of us before we get into phase three and four, which is where we see a significant reopening of quite of a lot things,” he said.

“There are some things in phase two that will result in a lot more movement. Once you get to 20km that’s actually a lot of movement.

“There are also some measures in phase two that allow people to meet indoors with social distancing and there also measures that allow us to visit people cocooning or shielding. My sense is it is roughly speaking the right balance.”

Rationale

Mr Harris said there was a public health rationale to the 20km limit.

“There are parts of our country where we haven’t seen a Covid case in quite a number of days and some I believe in a couple of weeks. If we all start getting in our cars and travelling there, the virus will go there too.”

The Minister also urged anyone who is considering organising a protest not to do so.

“Now is a time where there is real human tragedy, social distancing is tough of all of us, and we have to stick with it,” he said.

Mr Harris also said he wanted to remind people that if they are getting on public transport or shopping then they should wear face coverings as an additional hygiene measures.