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Taoiseach doubtful restrictions will be lifted on May 5

Meanwhile, HSE figures show the number of patients in critical care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 is showing signs of levelling off.

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Leo Varadkar said any change to the restrictions will be gradual (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Leo Varadkar said any change to the restrictions will be gradual (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Leo Varadkar said any change to the restrictions will be gradual (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he “doesn’t know” whether the Government will be able to relax the current restrictions, which are in place until next month.

Mr Varadkar said any change to the restrictions will be gradual and will happen over a number of months.

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, Mr Varadkar also sent his condolences to the 444 people who have died from Covid-19 in Ireland.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

“In the times ahead there are three questions we need to consider as an Oireachtas,” Mr Varadkar added.

“The first: when we can begin to lift the current restrictions and start getting things back to normal bit by bit.

“The second is what we need to do to get people back to work and revive and rebuild our economy.

“The third is how we can take what we have learnt in recent weeks and some of the things we have done to build a better society in the aftermath of Covid-19, and how we can honour the sacrifices made in every community.

“The answer to the first question is being developed as we speak, based on expert opinion. We have the advantage of being able to look at other countries that are a few weeks ahead of us and seeing how their strategies are working or not.

“I don’t know yet if we will be able to relax restrictions on May 5. I know that if we can at all, it’s going to be gradual and will happen over a number of months.”

Mr Varadkar said only a scientific breakthrough, a vaccine or an effective antiviral medicine will allow life to go back to normal.

He added: “Other breakthroughs, like a reliable antibody test, could really help though, and I am optimistic about the capacity of the brilliant minds in our international pharmaceutical companies and universities to deliver.

“The second and third questions must be answered by the new government, and every single person in this Oireachtas will have a role to play in shaping those responses, whether it’s part of the government or playing a constructive role in opposition.”

Mr Varadkar added that the Government’s “overriding priority” in the days and weeks ahead is the protection and survival of as many people as possible and to minimise the loss of life.

The current crisis gripping nursing homes across the State was also raised by political parties.

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said that around 200 clusters have been identified in nursing homes.

He pointed out that the 245 people who died in nursing homes from Covid-19 account for over half the total coronavirus deaths in Ireland.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he knows of a nursing home that has been told by the Department of Health that it should not give out information about the number of coronavirus cases in the facility.

Mr Martin claimed that nursing homes did not get the same attention as acute hospitals and were “left behind significantly” in Government planning.

Mr Doherty described the cases in nursing homes as a “massive crisis”.

Mr Doherty told the Dail: “It’s a massive issue that we need to address and we need some transparency in relation to this.

“We know that staff in the sector have been raising serious issues in terms of PPE in particular for quite some time, and when we talk to HSE officials they tell us that there’s nothing to see here.

“Unfortunately, we know from some of the revelations that there is a lot to see.”

It comes as new HSE figures show that the number of patients in critical care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 is showing signs of levelling off.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Figures published on Thursday show that 142 people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 were in critical care, while 27 suspected cases were also occupying critical care beds.

Of the confirmed cases, 94 patients were on ventilators yesterday evening.

The patterns show that the number of people in critical care has been levelling off for almost a week.

St James’s Hospital and Tallaght Hospital in Dublin have the highest number of patients in critical care.

While there were a total of 127 vacant critical care beds across the country at 6.30pm on Wednesday, Tallaght Hospital was one of seven hospitals that were at full capacity.

The figures also show that the number of coronavirus cases admitted to hospitals across the country is beginning to level with a total of 846 people needing hospital care.

The HSE report states the number of patients admitted to hospitals and awaiting the Covid-19 test results is also declining.

It comes as Ireland’s coronavirus death toll rose to 444 on Wednesday, with 38 further deaths reported in the previous 24 hours.

One of those who died was 23 – Ireland’s youngest victim to date.

There were 1,068 new cases of coronavirus confirmed in Ireland, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 12,547.

PA