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No indications Covid-19 levels low enough for easing of restrictions – Varadkar

The National Public Health Emergency Team will consider the current restrictions further on Friday, ahead of a Cabinet meeting later that day.

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Leo Varadkar briefed Cabinet colleagues on the latest Covid-19 updates (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar briefed Cabinet colleagues on the latest Covid-19 updates (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar briefed Cabinet colleagues on the latest Covid-19 updates (Niall Carson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Cabinet there are no indications that Covid-19 levels are low enough to allow any easing of the restrictions next week.

Mr Varadkar briefed colleagues on the current situation as ministers debated the Government’s next moves when the lockdown period is due to expire on May 5.

It came on a day when a further 59 deaths were announced, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 1,159.

Another 229 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed, taking the total to 19,877.

Experts on the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also met on Tuesday to discuss the restrictions.

They will convene again on Friday to agree recommendations to Government on whether there should be any easing of the lockdown come May 5.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

The Cabinet will hold a special meeting later that day to finalise its decision on the restrictions before an announcement is made.

If any relaxations are agreed, it is anticipated they will be minimal.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, who chairs NPHET, said further progress was needed on key indicators, such as ICU admissions and rates of new infection, to allow the team to recommend changes on Friday.

“The levels that we are at compared to other countries who are in a position to consider easing restrictions we’re just not quite as far as we’d like to be,” he said at the daily Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday evening.

“We’re not down to a low enough level yet.

“We will continue to monitor that over the coming days and we meet again on Friday, and we’ll make a further assessment of that situation on Friday and make that assessment available to Government.

“We hope to see further continued progress but we still have a way to go with a number of those important indicators.”

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Dr Tony Holohan said more progress was needed to bring down key indicators of the disease before he could recommend an easing of restrictions (Leon Farrell/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan said more progress was needed to bring down key indicators of the disease before he could recommend an easing of restrictions (Leon Farrell/PA)

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Dr Tony Holohan said more progress was needed to bring down key indicators of the disease before he could recommend an easing of restrictions (Leon Farrell/PA)

Cabinet discussed the latest data on the progression of Covid-19 in Ireland on Tuesday morning.

They were also briefed on the current position on testing and contact tracing, and regarding efforts to tackle outbreaks of the disease in long-term care facilities.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, later told Tuesday’s Department of Health media briefing that the target of 100,000 tests per week would be reached by May 18.

An expanded testing regime is a key part of the Government’s strategy to gradually ease restrictions.

Dr De Gascun said the fact the 100,000 target will not be reached until mid May may be a factor in NPHET’s deliberations later this week but he said it would not be the primary issue.

Earlier on Tuesday, an infectious disease specialist warned that returning to normal life after the Covid-19 emergency will be a crawl due to the complexity of the virus.

We need all of the things to be in place so we can safely crawl back to normality. I think it will be a crawlProfessor Karina Butler

Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland president Professor Karina Butler said officials must be sure that everything is in place to deal with potential outbreaks of Covid-19 when restrictions are eased.

Prof Butler, who is chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, told RTE’s Morning Ireland that changes to the testing criteria will give a better idea of how common the virus is in the community.

She said: “We’re in a lot better place than we might have been if decisive steps hadn’t been taken.”

Prof Butler said the safe return to normality will take a long time, warning the virus is “unique and stealthy”.

She said increased testing and rapid contact tracing should help the country to live alongside the virus.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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Prof Butler added: “We need all of the things to be in place so we can safely crawl back to normality. I think it will be a crawl.”

The criteria for Covid-19 testing were broadened on Tuesday to include more suspected cases of the virus.

People with either a recent cough, fever or shortness of breath can now get access to a test.

The Irish College of General Practitioners said the increase in testing was welcome.

It said: “As we approach next week where there is a hope the lockdown scenario will be eased, we have to do a lot more testing and tracing to make sure that the country stays on top of Covid-19 and this pandemic can come to an end.”

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