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Impact of easing restrictions to become clear this week, says Health Minister

Simon Harris said he is feeling ‘optimistic’ but warned the public cannot ‘get sloppy’.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris (Photocall Ireland)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Photocall Ireland)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Photocall Ireland)

The Minister for Health said it will become clear later this week whether the easing of restrictions has led to more cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

The State is entering the second week in easing its lockdown laws which saw the reopening of a number of retail stores and some sporting activities.

Simon Harris said on Monday that he is feeling “optimistic”, however he warned the public cannot “get sloppy” and urged people to continue following public health advice.

He also told RTE 2FM breakfast show that the advice around maintaining a two-metre physical distance is also under review.

Any changes to the current restrictive social distancing measure must be slow and incrementalLiz Canavan

A senior civil servant told Monday’s Government Covid-19 briefing that there is “a lot of discussion and speculation” about whether some of the public health advice and the road map schedule of reopening will change.

Liz Canavan said the current advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is that people should physically distance by two metres.

“That remains the public health advice from the Government and similar is in place in countries around the world,” Ms Canavan added.

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“Any changes to the current restrictive social distancing measure must be slow and incremental. This approach is essential, as going too far too fast could result in a sudden surge in infections.

“We need to know how we are getting on phase by phase. That’s why they are separated by three weeks so we can assess the impact of the virus on each set of measures.

“The approach to reducing measures will evolve as more information becomes available and in line with international learning and experience, in particular from countries ahead of Ireland in terms of their outbreak.”

Meanwhile, the Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is going to be reviewed.

It's not fair and not sustainable that some people are earning more than before they were off work.Heather Humphreys

She said that employers are finding it difficult to recruit people back to work as some are earning more from the 350 euro weekly payment.

The PUP, which is due to expire on June 8, was introduced after thousands of workers lost their jobs at the outbreak of Covid-19.

“It’s not fair and not sustainable that some people are earning more than before they were off work,” Mrs Humphreys said.

“However, when the PUP was introduced it was an urgent response to an unprecedented emergency and the payments provided families with immediate assistance following the overnight loss of hundreds of thousands of income.”

The PUP is being extended beyond June, however the minister said that a number of changes will be made to deal with the “anomalies”.

There's no way to get to phase five without causing a second waveProfessor Gerry Killeen, University College Cork

Meanwhile, a professor in Applied Pathogen Ecology, believes the current restrictions should remain in place for another four months.

Professor Gerry Killeen, of University College Cork, said the Government’s current roadmap will “guarantee” a second wave of Covid-19 cases.

The professor said that it could go on for years and become permanently part of the health landscape.

“Even with our five phases, there’s no way to get to phase five without causing a second wave,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

On Sunday, the coronavirus death toll in Ireland increased to 1,608 after a further four deaths were announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Ireland recorded 57 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 24,639.

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