The Minister for Finance has said “more signs and more evidence” that the spread of Covid-19 is under control are needed before Government can outline how the country will come out of lockdown next month.
Paschal Donohoe told journalists on Friday that while there "are some positive signs, we need more signs, and more evidence of the spread of the disease reducing".
He said that getting the level of virus circulating in the country down was key as “the lower the level of the disease, as we approach this part of Level 5, the better the prospects are regarding how we can reopen our economy and our society.”
Mr Donohoe was speaking at the official launch of the Government’s Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, which pays firms impacted by public health measures up to €5,000 a week. With Level 5 of the State’s Living with Covid plan implemented around the State, it is currently costing the exchequer around €80 million a week.
He said the Government is “of course” considering the options available to it for moving to a lower level of public health guidance, “when and if we see the spread of disease being reduced”. Mr Donohoe said that once the data shows that the disease is moving at a “steady and reliable pace”, the Government will “do all they can to give businesses time to organise themselves and be ready for opening”.
Elsewhere,Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Sky News that the Government intends to “keep the pressure on the virus” to facilitate an opening up of the country in December “and beyond, into the month of January, February and March”.
Hopefully a vaccine will arrive towards the end of the year, “that will give some hope to people for 2021”, he said.
Meanwhile, health experts have said restrictions may have to be eased slower in Dublin and other counties with high rates of Covid-19, when the country comes out of the national lockdown.
Professor Sam McConkey, infectious diseases consultant, said it was “too early to call” how far restrictions could be relaxed in December.
He said different approaches could be taken in different parts of the country, such as moving counties with higher virus rates to Level 3, rather than Level 2, of the Government’s phased plan.
Under Level 3, household visits are restricted to people from one other household, and people must avoid travelling outside their county, unless for work, education, or other essential reasons. Under Level 2, six people from three different households can visit homes, with no restrictions on travel.
“The idea of different opening ups, different restrictions per county has worked okay in the past,” Prof McConkey said, adding that would be “a reasonable way for Nphet [National Public Health Emergency Team] to go.”
The R-number, which is the reproductive rate of the virus, was still high in counties such as Dublin, Donegal, Louth, and Cork, he said.
The public had accepted and welcomed the move to a Level 5 lockdown, “because we care for our vulnerable, we care for our grannies,” he said. By the same token “a differential county by county relaxation will be accepted by people,” Prof McConkey said.
Dr Jack Lambert, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mater Hospital, also said different counties would need "a tailored plan" as the country emerged from lockdown.
“The high risk areas we may need to keep enhanced measures in place until the numbers are right,” he said.
Professor Kingston Mills, virologist at Trinity College Dublin, said the "full impact" of the move to the national lockdown was not yet known.
“The impact on the number of cases per day is seen quicker than hospitalisations or deaths, and that’s not going to be seen until several weeks into the restrictions,” he said.