The wearing of face-covering in indoor settings is to remain optional, public health officials have decided.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) decided not to vary its advice on face-masks following a discussion at its meeting on Thursday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said.
Pressure has been growing for the wider and/or compulsory wearing of face-masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19 in certain settings.
However, the group decided to stick with its existing recommendation for the non-mandatory use of face-coverings in circumstances where social distancing is a challenge, such as shopping and public transport.
Officials agreed to begin a communications campaign next week to encourage greater compliance with its advice on face-coverings.
A further eight deaths of people diagnosed with Covid-19 were reported by NPHET. This bring to 1,703 the total number of deaths in the Republic.
NPHET also reported another eight new cases of the disease at its briefing on Thursday. This brings the total number of cases to 25,238.
“NPHET has recommended the development and implementation of a national communications campaign to increase compliance with current recommendations on the use of face-coverings,” Dr Holohan said.
“The campaign will outline best practice for use of face coverings in retail outlets, on public transport and in other public locations, where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing.”
Officials recognised they would have to redouble their efforts to get across the message on face-coverings as compliance from the public was insufficient, he said. Retailers could play a role in promoting this guidance.
“Perhaps what we think is consistent advice hasn’t been heard as a clear and consistent message,” he told the briefing, adding there had been a difference of opinion on masks here and in other countries.
Many people commenting on the issue don’t have “the appropriate skills or knowledge base”, he added. While much higher usage of masks was needed, it would be inappropriate to make them mandatory given the evidence base and the difficulties some people have in wearing them.
Meanwhile, the reproduction number, a measure of how many people a confirmed case goes on to infect, now stands at between 0.4 and 0.8, officials told a briefing on Thursday.
“The next two weeks are now critical in limiting transmission, keeping the R-number low and suppressing the virus,” Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish epidemiological modelling advisory group, said. “It is how we interact, as we go about our daily lives more freely, that will determine whether it increases.”
An R-number below one indicates the virus is being eliminated.
All indicators of the disease are stable or declining at present, Prof Nolan said.
The number of new cases per day fell to 14 this week from 50 the previous week.
The number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 is 116, down from a mid-April high of 865, while ICU admissions stand at 34, compared to a peak of 144.
The number of deaths each day last week averaged five, down from a peak of 33.
The average number of tests done per day has fallen from 4,747 in mid-April to 2,547 now as the incidence of the virus has fallen.
“We’re doing more than enough testing,” Prof Nolan said, adding that most cases now were isolated instances, or in households or families.
There are currently 88 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospital. Of these, 28 are in intensive care.
An analysis of cases up to Tuesday shows 57 per cent are female and 43 per cent male.
The median age of cases is 48 years and 3,307 (13 per cent) have been hospitalised.
A total of 8,114 cases are associated with healthcare workers.
There are currently 6,886 cases of the disease in 465 residential care facilities, where 1,073 deaths have occurred; 251 nursing homes account for 5,310 of these cases and 940 of the deaths.
Another 64 healthcare workers contracted the virus in the past week, bringing the total of such cases to 8,123. The number of healthcare workers who have died stands unchanged at seven.
Meanwhile, the Government confirmed Revenue had made changes to the temporary wage subsidy scheme (TWSS) so that it now included women returning from maternity leave.
Last month, the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) raised concerns that the scheme discriminated against women who were on maternity benefit, while the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission warned the exclusion of these women could be in breach of European law.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Liz Canavan, assistant secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach, said that the changes to include these women had now been made, making them eligible for the scheme.
“Revenue has also confirmed that the changes in place of the wage subsidy scheme are now in place to accommodate employees who have returned or are due to return to work following a period of maternity leave, adopted leave or related unpaid leave,” Ms Canavan said.
“These changes also apply to employees who were not on their employer’s payroll on the 29th of February, who were on a period of paternity, parental or related unpaid leave, or in receipt of health and safety benefit, parents benefit or illness benefit.”
Employers who wish to access this scheme on behalf of employees covered by these changes can do so by completing a short online form, available for download via Revenue’s online service, Ms Canavan added.
Employers of workers who have been in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) may also be eligible for the TWSS, if the employee has been rehired.
“The employee needs to cease their PUP payment claim and the employer can provide relevant information to Revenue,” she said.
Over 60,000 employers are registered with Revenue for the temporary wage subsidy scheme, and more than 527,300 employees have now received at least one payment under the scheme.
However, that figure does not include additional employees who may receive a subsidy as a result of payments generated on Thursday, on which Revenue generated further payments to employers of € 26 million.
These payments will be in the bank accounts of “the majority” of the respective employers tomorrow.
The value of payments made to employers under the scheme now stands at €1.48 billion, Ms Canavan said.