Harris does not expect May 5th to be ‘Big Bang moment’ for restrictions

Minister says drop in number in ICU encouraging but virus ‘will be with us for a long period’

Minister for Health Simon Harris. He said he hoped the week beginning May 5th would be ‘a period of time in which we can explain to people how we would go about reopening our country’. File photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Minister for Health Simon Harris. He said he hoped the week beginning May 5th would be ‘a period of time in which we can explain to people how we would go about reopening our country’. File photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said the week of May 5th will not be a “Big Bang moment” in terms of lifting social restrictions in place to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“I’m being honest and blunt with people, I think the week beginning May 5th, is not going to be a Big Bang moment in terms of the lifting of restrictions,” he said.

“But what I hope it is, is a period of time in which we can explain to people how we would go about reopening our country, how we would phase that, the issues we would consider and hopefully, but far from guaranteed, the easing of one or two restrictions.”

Restrictions introduced last month to reduce the public’s exposure to the virus, also known as Covid-19, including a limit on travel beyond 2km of people’s homes, are due to expire on May 5th.

Mr Harris was speaking at the Department of Health following a meeting with medical leaders via videolink on Saturday.

He said he had spoken to the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Saturday morning and that “if today was the date he was making the decision on what to do next, he would still be advising against changing the restrictions”.

“That’s a sobering and a tough message I know because we’re all living in hope,” he added. Mr Harris said there are now 118 people in intensive care units with the virus, down from 160 last week.

Mr Harris said the drop was “an encouraging sign” but that there is “a real recognition now that Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long period of time”.

He said it was important now for discussions to happen with medical leaders about how care for those with the virus is provided alongside non-Covid care.

Mr Harris said reopening the country would be “very complex” and that while Ireland could look at what other countries have done, “every country is a little bit different in terms of the scale of its pandemic”.

Mr Harris said so far 120 HSE staff had volunteered to work in nursing homes. He said while it was a small number, it was “a significant increase” from 64 a number of days ago.

He said there was the potential for some home help workers to be deployed to private nursing homes.

“There’s a few issues that nursing home owners and the HSE need to iron out in relation to contracts and insurance and the likes but I expect that all to be bottomed out over this weekend,” he said.

Meetings

The Minister also said notes from meetings with the National Public Health Emergency Team and recommendations it had made to the department and HSE should and would be published.

Mr Harris said the HSE’s chief executive Paul Reid would publish a plan in the coming days as to how it plans to ramp up testing to cover 100,000 people a week. He said to date there have been 127,319 tests processed.

The Minister also said he was conscious it was “a tough time for people” but warned against complacency and increased movement.

“One of the reasons why we’ve made huge progress in this country is thanks to people following the public health advice,” he said.

“The more we begin to stretch that advice or decide that we’re going to interpret or reinterpret that advice in our lives, the more we increase movement in our country and the more we increase risk of making ourselves or other people sick and seeing deaths rise in our country.”

He said next week’s meeting with medical leaders would focus on research and that it was important Ireland was “well positioned to benefit from any research and clinical trials in relation to Covid-19”.