People in Ireland will have to learn to live alongside the coronavirus and social distancing measures will need to stay in place until a vaccine or effective treatment is available, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.
The Minister also raised the prospect of the current restrictions being “tweaked” in three weeks’ time if enough progress is made in tackling the pandemic.
Mr Harris said the key indicators to watch in the coming weeks will be the rate of growth of the virus, the average number of people in intensive care units and the reproductive rate of Covid-19, which measures how many people each infected person is likely to pass the virus on to.
The current restrictions will remain in place until May 5th and Mr Harris said the next three weeks will be crucial in halting the spread of the disease. He appealed to people to continue to adhere to the rules in place.
“We may arrive at a point where we can begin to tweak and change some of the restrictions because I am really conscious the current situation is not sustainable forever,” Mr Harris said.
“I think, being truthful, social distancing is going to remain a very big part of life not just in Ireland but the world over until we get to a vaccine or effective treatment for the coronavirus.
“There isn’t going to be a magic point at the start of May where life as we knew it before the coronavirus is going to resume.”
Mr Harris said the Irish authorities would be able to monitor developments in other countries which are starting to ease restrictions – such as Austria and Denmark – but asked that people do not “get ahead of ourselves”.
“We need to st ay focused rather than all of us studying what’s going happen in three weeks time.”
He said it is “so important” that the coming three-week period is used to “to do everything humanly possible to suppress the virus, and to save lives”.
If enough progress is made in that period, he said, then an “intelligent conversation” can be had about what activities it may be possible to allow while maintaining social distancing.
He said he was “confident” there will be a “significant ramping up” in the testing system in the coming weeks that will enable a turnaround time of 48 hours.
“Obviously the quicker, the better,” he said. “And it is clear that we would need to have a more robust testing system in place. That’s not exclusive to Ireland, as I have pointed out, because I think it’s often not commented upon Ireland is carrying out many more tests than other European countries.”
He said the economy will recover and that “it’s going to come back, quicker and stronger depending on how well we do to responding to the public health emergency”.
“If we can suppress the virus, if we can save lots of lives . . . that’s really good for our economy. And if we can intensively do that and do it as quickly as possible because being realistic, that’s also good for our economy.”