Covid-19: Taoiseach warns on easing of restrictions as case numbers remain stubbornly high

Nphet member urges public to ‘hold on’ as 10 further deaths and 646 cases reported

Covid-19 signage in  St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. A National Public Health Emergency Team member has called on people to ‘hold on’ for a few more weeks to keep the disease suppressed. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Covid-19 signage in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. A National Public Health Emergency Team member has called on people to ‘hold on’ for a few more weeks to keep the disease suppressed. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has expressed concern about stubbornly high Covid-19 case numbers and said “the journey” between now and April 5th would determine the extent to which restrictions can be eased next month.

Echoing concerns expressed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which reported 10 deaths and 646 cases on Friday, Mr Martin called on the public to protect the progress made to date.

He said the Government would tell people in the week of March 29th what restrictions can be softened the following week. The measures currently under consideration are an easing of the 5km travel limit, a staggered return of construction and allowing people to meet outdoors.

“There is no point in opening up and having to close again,” he told RTÉ. “We want to do this in a sensible way. That does mean that people have to stay with us on this and I just want to say to people, you know we’ve made great progress as a country since Christmas.

“We have successfully partially reopened the schools, but we will keep an eye on those numbers and it’s the journey between now and closer to April 5th that will determine the announcement on the 5th in terms of what we can do for April.”

Cases detected

In a statement, Nphet said four of the 10 deaths reported on Friday had occurred this month, with one in February, one in January and four others under investigation. A total of 4,518 deaths have been linked to Covid-19 in the State and 225,820 cases of the disease have been detected.

Of the latest cases, there were 243 in Dublin, 80 in Kildare, 45 in Meath, 35 in Galway, 34 in Offaly and the remaining 209 were spread across 20 other counties.

The latest vaccination figures, for Tuesday, show 16,544 were administered. A total of 553,161 doses have been administered to date with 157,072 having had both shots.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and HSE chief executive Paul Reid on Thursday criticised vaccine maker AstraZeneca for failing to meet its delivery pledges.

Mr Martin said he met the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, which has had its one-shot vaccine approved for use in the EU this week, and will meet AstraZeneca later to discuss the delays.

He said he will also have a conversation with US president Joe Biden during their online meeting to mark St Patrick’s Day about Covid-19 and the global vaccination rollout. It has been reported that millions of AstraZeneca vaccines are in storage in America as the country has not yet approved its use. Mr Martin said he did not believe these would go out of date.

Stubbornly high

Nphet on Thursday raised concerns about the stubbornly high number of cases, around 500 a day, still being detected and cautioned that the situation in the State could decline if people let their guard down.

The infection numbers have been linked to the more transmissible B117 variant and greater mobility in the population.

Prof Philip Nolan, Nphet’s epidemiological modelling expert, on Friday said there were worrying signs of “slippage” among the public that could have an impact on the spread of the disease. He called on people to “hold on” for a few more weeks to keep the disease suppressed.

“We’ve seen this before, we see the level of slippage. We get tired, we get lonely, mix a little bit more,” Prof Nolan told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The plea to the public, if they were slipping, was to “pull back” and help keep the virus suppressed, he said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few more weeks.”

In a statement on Friday, An Garda Síochána said members of the force continue to encounter people gathering in groups at house parties or social gatherings .

“ Such gatherings put at risk not only those attending, but everyone they come into contact with after including loved ones, neighbours, colleagues and local community,” it said as it called on people to follow the public health advice currently in place.

“Recent surveys have shown that the majority of people believe that they are doing the right thing, but the reality is that the level of casual contacts remains high.”

Checkpoints

The Garda warned that it would be continuing nationwide checkpoints and high visibility patrols at public amenities, parks and beauty spots while the current restrictions remain in place.

It said that all adults in a car found to be undertaking a non-essential journey can be liable for a €100 fine and that it has issued some 13,600 Covid-19 fines across the range of offences to date.

One more death with Covid-19 was reported by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,097. A further 208 people tested positive for the virus, it said.