Coronavirus: Minister signs regulations giving gardaí powers to enforce lockdown

Republic sees record highest daily figure for new deaths at 36 bringing total to 210

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has confirmed that a further 36 people have died due to coronavirus, Ireland's highest daily figure for new deaths. The total number of deaths from coronavirus now stands at 210. Video: RTÉ

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has signed regulations granting the Garda the powers to enforce sweeping restrictions on public movement and bring criminal prosecutions against those failing to comply on Tuesday night.

The new powers were included in the emergency coronavirus legislation passed two weeks ago but only became active once the Minister signed them into use. Until now gardaí have been requesting rather than ordering people to comply with the guidelines.

Mr Harris has activated the regulations following a meeting with the Garda Commissioner and the Attorney General on Tuesday. It is understood signing of the regulations was delayed as the Government’s lawyers worked out the precise wording and extent of the powers.

Gardaí now have the power to arrest and detain those who breach the restrictions. This includes those found exercising beyond 2km from their homes or those travelling for non-essential reasons.

Convictions will result in a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine of €2,500.

Gardaí also have the power to assist the HSE in detaining someone judged to be at risk of spreading the virus who refuses to self isolate. Those refusing to comply with such orders face up to three months in prison.

The measures were enacted on Tuesday amid worries the fine weather will attract many people to public spaces over the coming bank holiday weekend.

Garda sources say the intention will be to only use the enforcement powers as a last resort, e.g. if someone refuses to return home when directed or are repeatedly caught breaking the regulations.

A Garda spokesman repeated on Tuesday that compliance from the public remains high.

Record daily deaths

Earlier on Thursday the deaths of another 36 patients - 19 males and 17 females - diagnosed with Covid-19 were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Some 27 of the deaths were in the east, six in the north and three in the south. Some 24 of the patients were reported as having underlying health conditions. There have now been 210 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic. The median age of today’s deaths is 81.

The NPHET also reported 345 new confirmed cases on Monday. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 5,709.

Tuesday’s number for deaths is a daily record.

According to the NPHET, 42,484 tests have been carried out in labs across the country. Almost 40 per cent of tests have been carried out in the last seven days.

These tests have resulted in 2,374 positive tests. This means 19 per cent of tests are producing a positive result, up 4 per cent in the past week.

Analysis of cases

An analysis of the cases up to last Sunday shows 46 per cent were in men and 53 per cent in women; the median age of cases is 48 years. There have been 270 clusters involving 1,103 cases.

Of these cases, 1,345 have been hospitalised (24 per cent) and of those hospitalised, 194 were admitted to ICU.

A total of 1,338 healthcare workers have now contracted the virus.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said this increase was the result of a more sensitive case definition, which meant people who were more likely to have the disease were tested, including healthcare workers and people in hospital.

The NPHET made a direct appeal to the public not to travel unnecessarily over Easter.

Expressing concern that a proportion of the population may seek to travel to holiday destinations, holiday homes and mobile homes over the Easter weekend, despite travel restrictions in place since March 27th.

It said it was grateful gardai have been “visibly present” on the roads over the past week “assisting the public with compliance”.

“Given the mass community transmission of Covid-19 across Europe, the European Centre for Disease Control is expected to advise all EU nationals to keep current restrictions in place.

“While current restrictions have reduced the number of people becoming infected by one confirmed case, this depends on people staying at home and following public health advice.”

Earlier data

NPHET officials criticised new US research published on Tuesday which suggested Ireland had reached its peak, as unreliable.

According to the new international modelling data , Ireland has passed its peak of Covid-19 infections but can expect more than 400 deaths by next month.

Peak resource use of hospital and ICU beds passed on April 4th, while peak daily deaths passed on April 6th, according to the data published by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in the US.

The research looks at the predicted spread and impact of coronavirus in 29 European countries and assumes social distancing measures will remain in place until August.

“It’s not really a model. It just took existing case data and suggested that because things seem to have stabilised over a short number of days that perhaps we’ve reached a peak,” said assistant chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

“It doesn’t take into account any changes over the coming days or the highest number of deaths reported this evening.”

Dr Glynn said Irish modelling being led by NUI Maynooth president Prof Philip Nolan was using a more extensive range of paramenters and people should wait to see what comes out of this work.

Placing “undue store” in the US research could lead to complacency, he warned.

The research looks at the predicted spread and impact of coronavirus in 29 European countries and assumes social distancing measures will remain in place until August.

It predicts there will be more than 150,000 deaths in Europe during the “first wave” of the pandemic.

In relation to Ireland, it says there was “no overall bed shortage” on the peak date, with a shortage of 88 ICU beds. A shortfall of 125 ventilators was also forecast.

These calculations were based on the pre-pandemic availability of under 250 ICU beds in the State; this capacity has since been at least doubled, indicating an ever greater surplus of capacity under these modelling assumptions.The supply of ventilators has also been boosted.

Deaths

A total of 401 deaths are forecast in Ireland by the start of May but none thereafter to August 4th, the end of the modelling period, according to the report.

The study predicts 66,300 deaths in the UK, the highest in Europe. The UK’s use of bed resources is predicted to peak on April 17th and its deaths on April 20th.

It says the peak of the pandemic has passed in many European countries, including Spain, Italy and France, where 19,209, 20,300 and 15,058 deaths are predicted, respectively. The model is based on the social distancing measures introduced in New Zealand and also assumes complete adherence to these measures.

It also suggests the end of the first wave of the epidemic could occur by early June and says whether a second wave occurs depends on what is done then to prevent Covid-19 being re-introduced.

“By the end of the first wave of the epidemic, an estimated 97 per cent of the population of the US will still be susceptible to the disease and thus measures to avoid a second wave of the pandemic prior to vaccine availability will be necessary.”

“It is unequivocally evident that social distancing can, when well implemented and maintained, control the epidemic, leading to declining death rates,” said IHME director Dr Christopher Murray.

“Those nations hit hard early on implemented social distancing orders and may have the worst behind them as they are seeing important progress in reducing their death rates. Each nation’s trajectory will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax other precautions.

“To decrease the risk of a second wave in places where the first wave is controlled by robust social distancing, governments would need to consider mass testing, contact tracing, and quarantines for those infected until a vaccination is available, mass produced, and distributed widely.”

Restrictions

The current restrictions on movement in Ireland, which are due to end on Easter Sunday, will be considered at a NPHET meeting on Friday.

Dr Holohan said he wasn’t anticipating any change to these restrictions “at this moment in time”.

The team will also consider the public health implications of setting up a childcare scheme to facilitate healthcare workers.

The Cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday for an update on the Covid-19 emergency. It is expected to consider a memorandum of understanding with Northern Ireland on dealing with the Coronavirus crisis.

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