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Reproductive rate of Covid-19 has fallen again, Health Minister says

New figures show that the rate of transmission for coronavirus is being suppressed and has fallen to between 0.5 and one.

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Covid-19 testing lab (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Covid-19 testing lab (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Covid-19 testing lab (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The reproductive rate of Covid-19 has fallen further to between 0.5 and one, the Health Minister has said.

The reproductive rate, known as R0 or R naught, fell  to between 0.7 and one last week.

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dail the reproductive rate of Covid-19 has fallen again, meaning the virus is becoming suppressed within the community.

“Having fallen between 0.7 and one last week, it now stands at between 0.5 to one. This means each ten patients will likely infect another five or ten people. The virus will slowly be suppressed.”

Mr Harris has said the lockdown will not be loosened in Ireland on a regional basis.

It came as Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the region could  emerge from restrictions at a different pace than other parts of the UK.

“That is something that is always under consideration but due to the size of the country that has not been practical in terms of the transmission of the virus. That is always kept under review.”

He said despite this “we are by no means in a safe place” and urged the public to stick with the restrictions.

“If we had to decide on lifting measures today for tomorrow, the chief medical officer advises me we would not make any changes.

“But we are working on a roadmap, which we will finalise over the next week. One which must acknowledge increased movement carries increased risk.

“We know there is a thin line between where we could have been, where we are and where we may yet be.”

Earlier,  a professor of immunology raised concerns that Ireland’s scale of testing for Covid-19 is picking up only one in 10 cases.

Paul Moynagh said officials need to ramp up the level of testing before considering lifting any of the current restrictions.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “In terms of community testing, if we’re picking up very few cases, the primary role they’re testing at the moment is for disease surveillance rather than being actively used to identify and suppress transmission.

“I think we need to address that and in fact, if you look at the WHO (World Health Organisation), they have indicated six conditions that a country must meet before considering lifting restrictions.

“At the top of them very much related to testing, and being able to test and trace every positive case and identify every contact.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near that situation.

“Then being able to control the hotspots of infections, such as nursing homes, and obviously that’s a key challenge at the moment.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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Prof Moynagh said the Department of Health needs to increase the amount and speed of testing.

He added: “We tend to be quite reactive because we’ve moved to a situation of testing nursing homes, which I think is absolutely the right thing to do, but that needs to be done at a scale where all residents and all workers can be tested.

“That probably needs to be done on a regular basis.

“That will essentially soak up most of the testing capacity, and then we reduce the level of testing we can do at community level.

“That is a concern of mine. I think we really need to look at testing in a very serious way, and begin to come up with a strategy, a road map and action plan in terms of where we’re going with testing.

“If we’re only picking up one in 10 cases, if we’re going to use testing as an active way to suppress transmission, then we definitely need that in order to lift restrictions.

“The best defence we have against limiting transmission of this virus is isolation, and as we move, inevitably, to lifting some of the restrictions, we need something there to help us in terms of suppressing that transmission.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Health confirmed a further 49 Covid-19-related deaths, taking the total since the outbreak began to 769.

An additional 113 deaths are suspected to have links to coronavirus, the Department of Health has said.

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A senior civil servant said flexible working arrangements will be put in place for the partners of healthcare workers to help with childcare.

At a Government press briefing on Thursday, Liz Canavan confirmed that two measures have been agreed by the Government in relation to childcare for health workers.

“The first measure relates to circumstances where one parent, guardian or partner is an essential healthcare worker,” she said.

“In this case the other parent, guardian or partner will be supported by their public sector employer to remain at home to care for their children, so as to ensure the essential healthcare worker is able to go to work.

“In the first instance, flexible working arrangements will be put in place for the other parent or guardian, such as working from home or working adjusted hours or shifts.

“Though not anticipated, in the event that flexible arrangements do not allow the essential healthcare worker to attend work, it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) has indicated there’s no public health rationale to suggest this measure cannot be implemented as soon as practicable.

“The second measure relates to the provision of childcare in workers’ homes.

“NPHET has indicated that this will be part of its consideration of a phased reduction of social distancing guidance, which are already in place.”

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