A decision to lift coronavirus lockdown measures will depend on people complying with them, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.
Mr Varadkar said that while there is a prospect of easing the measures on May 5, there are fears within the Government that people are becoming more lax.
He made the comments after data from Dublin Bus showed an increase in the number of journeys taken this week amid suggestions that there has been increase in people’s movement.
Another 37 deaths involving Covid-19 have been reported by Ireland’s Department of Health, bringing the total to 829.
Half occurred in a hospital, and most were associated with an underlying health condition, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said.
A total of 577 additional cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 18,184.
Mr Vardakar told a press conference on Friday that while gardai have strong powers to enforce the Covid-19 restrictions, they prefer to use the power of persuasion.
“If we continue to do the right thing for the next 11 days, that really increases our prospects to ease restrictions,” Mr Varadkar said.
“Anyone thinking of breaching those restrictions, bear in mind the consequences. It’s not worth it, even for just a few hours.
“I would ask people to accept that message.”
Mr Varadkar said the Government will be looking at data which monitors people’s movement ahead of any decision to ease restrictions.
“One of the big fears we have is anticipatory behaviour,” he added.
“People anticipate easing of restrictions and are leapfrogging that and engaging in social contact that can allow the virus to spread.
“The fact we can see people being more lax in what they are doing is a real worry and will make it harder to come out of this.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged that the guidelines are frustrating.
He added: “People have been incredible in this country but human nature is that people get a bit fatigued and stretch their understanding of what public guidelines are.
“It’s worth reminding people that the request is to stay at home to keep you and your family safe and older and vulnerable people safe.
“The alternative to what we are asking is a hell of a lot worse. Lives are being saved.”
Meanwhile, senior Government official Liz Canavan said while the country has made good progress in slowing the spread, it is vital the good work is not undone.
Dublin Bus passenger numbers are up day-on-day and week-on-week.— Ãine McMahon (@AineMcMahon) April 24, 2020
Liz Canavan said we canât assume that if we relax, the virus will behave differently.
âWe cannot be content that what we have done so far is enough. The virus has not changed, we have.â #COVID19ireland
She said: “We need to continue to observe the restrictions in place, stay safe and stay at home.
“As we approach the weekend, the guidance remains clear. We all need to continue to play our part. We cannot be content that what we have done so far is enough.
“The virus has not changed, we have. That is why the virus has improved in the general population. We cannot assume that if we relax that the virus will behave any differently than it has up to now.
“It is highly infectious to older people and people with underlying infections. We must stay the course.
“Dublin Bus notified us yesterday evening of an increase in passenger numbers day-on-day this week. All days are above levels seen in previous weeks. They are engaging with the National Transport Authority to get more specific data on this.
“An Garda Siochana will also be updating us to give us their view. They are continuing to monitor the situation in terms of traffic volumes and will continue to urge the public to abide by the measures.”
Ms Canavan said it has been eight weeks since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed. She said social cohesion has been key to Ireland’s response and urged people to continue to co-operate to defeat the virus.
Meanwhile a professor of epidemiology has warned the public will have to double-down on efforts around social distancing and hygiene as the coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased.
Ruairi Brugha, of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), said the country can only move to the next stage if people take responsibility for how they behave around distancing measures.
Prof Brugha warned easing restrictions is “quite complex” and said a lot of steps need to be put in place.
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “Once we reach the point of relaxation, it’s going to determine whether we are going to maintain control of this epidemic or risk a second wave epidemic down the road.
“We can’t keep things as they are and we need to recognise that as we relax certain measures, carefully in a staged way with good monitoring systems in place, we have to double-down on what we need to do around distancing and hygiene.
“The responsibility will be more now on the public than it was previously.”