Ireland is ahead of the most optimistic scenarios for the decline in Covid-19 case numbers meaning that the country is now in a “very positive position to talk about May, June, July and the easing of restrictions,” the Minister for Health said on Sunday.
“We are ahead of the best-case scenario we were given four weeks ago” for cases of the virus and the R number or rate at which the virus is reproduced remained below 1.”
This “puts us in a very positive position to talk about May, June, July” and the easing of restrictions, the Minister said.
He was speaking on Sunday, before the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported one further death related to Covid-19 and 269 new cases of the virus.
This is the lowest number of case reported in one day since December 14th, and marks the continuation of a positive recent trend of declining cases which has increased optimism around the further easing of restrictions.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital also fell this weekend to its lowest level since October, with 181 people being treated for the virus.
“We are ahead of the best-case scenario we were given four weeks ago” for cases of the virus and the R number, or rate at which the virus is reproduced, remains below 1, said the Minister.
An R (reproduction) number below 1 means the spread of the virus is slowing.
Mr Donnelly told RTÉ’s This Week programme the slowing in case numbers “puts us in a very positive position to talk about May, June, July” and the easing of restrictions.
Earlier on Sunday Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government will look at getting all construction reopened in May as “key milestones are being met” with regards to controlling Covid-19 cases.
Speaking at the Fianna Fáil annual 1916 Arbour Hill commemoration, Mr Martin said: "We will look to get all construction activity reopened. We understand the major impact felt by small business and want to see a return of more retail and commercial activity and personal services."
The Taoiseach also said “we have begun the gradual steps of lifting some restrictions. And if we can maintain control of the virus we will go as fast as possible in lifting more.”
Dr Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer, Department of Health said in a statement on Sunday “we have already seen the fantastic impact of vaccination amongst our healthcare workers and in our nursing homes.
“The declining incidence across all age groups in recent weeks cannot be attributed to vaccination but rather to the enormous efforts of people across society to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Mr Donnelly also said he has asked for a recommendation on whether it was possible to increase the time period between the first and second vaccine doses to up to 12 weeks, in a bid to accelerate the numbers who could receive a first dose.
Mr Donnelly said the data from Ireland and internationally showed the impact of the first dose was very significant in terms of cutting cases and hospitalisations. Mr Donnelly said he had requested advice from Dr Glynn on the matter.
By the end of next week, 26 vaccination centres will have been opened across the State as the vaccination programme ramps up, with the target to administer 250,000 doses weekly.
A total of 814,470 people have been fully vaccinated to date in the State while 341,129 people have received their first dose, as of Friday, April 16th.
Retail opening ‘threatens spike’
In Northern Ireland, 82 further cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Sunday, with no new deaths reported.
A surge in people crossing the Border when non-essential shops reopen in the North ahead of the Republic threatens a spike in infections throughout Ireland within weeks, the British Medical Association is warning.
Retailers, which are currently only allowed to offer click and collect services, and outdoor hospitality are due to fully reopen north of the Border on April 30th while hairdressers and beauty salons can start operating again on April 23th.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA in the North, said the “cautious” reopening was the “right thing to do” given the current rates of infection in the region, but he cautioned about the impact of cross-border shopping as a result of services still being shuttered in the Republic.
“When non-essential retail opens it wouldn’t surprise me if people came across the border to go shopping,” he said.
“That will increase transmission of infection. It will increase it here and in the Republic of Ireland.”
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics Northern Ireland, he said there had been “much the same” number of vaccinations in the Republic “but with a larger population, the percentage (of the population) is lower.”