Ireland’s chief medical officer has expressed concern at new data suggesting almost half of people think the worst of the coronavirus crisis is over.
Dr Tony Holohan said if the exit from lockdown restrictions went wrong the country could yet face a surge in cases worse than anything experienced to date.
At the daily Covid-19 briefing, Dr Holohan also said he was hopeful that Ireland’s phased recovery plan could begin on schedule next Monday.
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,467 on Monday after a further 15 deaths were announced.
There were 139 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, taking the total in Ireland since the emergency began to 23,135.
Dr Holohan said an official market survey of public attitudes saw 43% of respondents say they felt the worst of the emergency was behind Ireland.
The other options presented to those answering were that the worst of the crisis was still ahead, or it was happening at the moment.
Dr Holohan said the findings emphasised the challenge facing the Department of Health in conveying the message about the potential impact of a second wave of cases.
“Forty three percent is quite a high percentage of people who believe that this is over and the work is done here,” he said.
“That’s just a little cause for concern that we have.”
He added: “If we get it wrong as we begin to ease restrictions – and we’re hoping that we’re moving towards a point at which we’d be able to do that – and we see the reproductive number of the infection rising to a level which is beyond what we think we can deal with and we can cope with, we could have a significant challenge with this that’s every bit as great as the challenge we might have had had we not gotten this as controlled as we did over the course of the last two months.”
The briefing also heard that the median turnaround time from referral for a Covid-19 test to the sample being tested, the result being issued and contact tracing being undertaken was five days, with progress being made to reduce it to four.
Dr Holohan said he did not think the effectiveness of the testing regime would provide reason to hold up the start of the recovery plan.
He said other factors would need to be considered before he and colleagues in the National Public Health Emergency Team would be in a position to recommend to Government that phase one could begin on May 18.
“Today isn’t the day that we’re going to be making the assessment, we’ll do that over the course of this week, towards the end of the week we’ll arrive at an assessment and we’ll make that advice available to Government,” said Dr Holohan.
“But I would say at this stage we think and we’re hopeful that we’d be in a position to make a positive recommendation in relation to those restrictions and all of the considerations that have to go into that for Monday.”
Earlier on Monday, the Electric Picnic music festival in County Laois became the latest high profile event to be cancelled due to the emergency.
Elsewhere, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with Ireland’s five major high street banks to discuss the coronavirus crisis.
He was joined by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Business Minister Heather Humphreys for the talks with the chief executives of AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, Permanent TSB and KBC.
A Government statement said Mr Varadkar emphasised the important role of the banking sector in supporting the gradual reopening of the Irish economy by ensuring a flow of credit to businesses.
He welcomed payment-break supports offered to business customers and mortgage holders, including a move to extend these from three to six months.
The ministers also praised the bank workers who had continued to serve customers throughout the lockdown.
“The Government and the banks jointly recognised the challenge facing many businesses as the economy reopens,” the statement concluded.
“The Government welcomes the commitment by the banks to continue to play their part by working positively with their customers, in as supportive a manner as possible, to ensure that the recovery can take place as quickly as possible.”