The head of the Health Service Executive said that reducing the physical-distancing policy to one metre would give health officials “significant extra capacity” to manage ill patients and emergency departments.
Paul Reid said the current expert advice of keeping the public two metres apart has created “significant implications” for capacity across the State’s health facilities.
The chief executive told the weekly HSE briefing that they have to follow advice issued by the National Public Health and Emergency Team (NPHET).
COVID19 (coronavirus) weekly update from St. Laurenceâs Church, TU Dublin, Grangegorman, Dublin 7 https://t.co/hEmcjEoMo9— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) May 24, 2020
The Government has urged members of the public to maintain a two-metre distance from others when outside their homes.
However, concerns have been raised about people’s ability practice physical distancing while using public transport.
Mr Reid said: “Obviously the NHPET guidance and government guidance is two metres and that’s what we are planning in terms of framework for new services to work through.
“That does have significant implications for us in terms of emergency departments, patients’ waiting rooms, so two metres will reduce the volume that we could have attending at a particular time.
“But we have to work off what the current guidance is – there is no doubt one metre would give us significant extra capacity in terms of managing our ill patients or managing our EDs (emergency departments) or generally managing our services but we will be guided by the current guidance.”
HSE chef clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said that some advice has changed as experts gain a better understanding of how the virus works.
He added: “It was only through the measures that were brought in on March 27, which were quite stringent but included social distancing of two metres, that we were able to not just bend the curve but but really reduce it down to where it is now.
“We see many countries including the United States and the UK including a distance of two metres bearing in mind that it’s a droplet-spread illness.
“It’s based on the projected length a droplet can spread. Initially we thought this was through coughing and sneezing, but as we get a greater understanding of this virus we are more aware of how it can spread in less obvious situations and indeed and how it can spread from people who are asymptotic or pre-symptomatic.
“In the HSE we are governed by decisions of NPHET and how they advise is based on the best international advice and that would be informed also by other countries and how they are emerging out of the initial phases of the pandemic.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there had been “no change” to advice on the two-metre rule.
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 in the past day, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 24,639.
The Department of Health said that community transmission accounts for 59% of cases, close contact accounts for 38% and travel abroad accounts for 3%.