Ireland’s chief medical officer has said he is very concerned people may start disregarding social distancing rules in the expectation that changes are imminent.
Dr Tony Holohan urged the public to “stay the course” during the current lockdown period and warned against assuming a relaxation of the measures would come on May 5.
That date is when the current restrictions are due to expire.
While the Government has expressed hope some the rules may be gradually eased after May 5, Dr Holohan made clear that was not a given.
Ireland’s toll of deaths with a confirmed Covid-19 link rose to 769 on Wednesday, after another 49 were notified to the Department of Health. The department said 10 deaths previously linked to coronavirus had since been de-notified as Covid-19 related.
The department is aware of an additional 113 deaths, which took place in community residential settings such as nursing homes, where Covid-19 was suspected, but not confirmed.
Department of Health Covid 19 press briefing https://t.co/fljRNucqH3— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) April 22, 2020
A further 631 confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported on Wednesday, taking the total since the outbreak began to 16,671.
The department also outlined a breakdown of the death toll in respect of age brackets.
Of the 769 fatalities, 667 were among people aged 70 and over; there were 53 in the 60-69 bracket; 29 among those aged 50-59; 12 in the 40-49 bracket; and in both the 30-39 and 20-29 brackets there were five or fewer deaths in each. No one aged under 20 has died with coronavirus in Ireland.
When it comes to the restrictions on movement, the Government acts on the advice given by the National Public Health Emergency Team, which Dr Holohan leads.
Addressing the daily Covid-19 briefing, Dr Holohan said he was not currently in a position to recommend any easing of the restrictions.
Asked if he was concerned people may start to move around more freely ahead of the May 5, Dr Holohan replied: “Very concerned and we can’t stress highly enough the importance of staying the course in what we’re doing at the moment and for continuing the high levels of compliance we see across the population to get us in a strong position as we can be as soon as possible and certainly by May 5.
“If the decision was today, we have not reached a point where we think we could be recommending a change in the restrictions, so there should be no assumption that this is something automatic, there should be no assumption that this is something that we’re definitely going to get to.
“And there certainly should be no anticipatory slacking off, if I can put it in those terms, in advance of May 5 – we have a way to go.”
The Government is currently drawing up a plan that will outline how it will gradually reopen the country when the medical advice permits. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to make the plan public before May 5.
Dr Holohan has said restrictions can only be eased if three key criteria are met – the current reproductive rate of the virus is kept below one; hospital capacity is not under significant pressure; and a ramped-up testing, contract tracing and monitoring regime is operational.
He said the success of social distancing measures to date meant Ireland had effectively not experienced a first wave of the virus, as the disease’s transmission had been suppressed.
But he said any sudden deterioration of social distancing compliance could undermine all that progress.
“We could lose all of the ground that we’ve made,” he said.