Ireland can avoid a fourth wave of coronavirus if people stick to public health measures and avoid indoor gatherings, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheal Martin said the measures had worked in bringing the case numbers down “significantly” but he was now concerned that numbers were flattening.
Mr Martin told RTE Radio 1’s News at One: “People have been extremely good here in terms of the impact they’ve had on the virus.
“We have to stand back and say we’ve brought numbers down very, very significantly from where they were two months ago.
“I mean, two months ago we had 2,000 people in hospital.
“We have to avoid that kind of pressure ever again going on our hospital system, so we are concerned that the situation has remained static.”
The Taoiseach described the UK variant as the “most significant factor”, combined with more congregation and a degree more mobilisation “that is allowing the figures to flatten and increase somewhat in the last number of days”.
“What I would say to people is that we have control of this and we must avoid congregation indoors at all costs,” Mr Martin said.
“If we stick with this and if we manage to adhere (and) keep outdoors, avoid the indoor congregations, I think we can avoid a fourth wave.”
The Taoiseach said the mental health and wellbeing of people would be taken into account when Cabinet meets to consider any easing of public health restrictions from April 5.
He also said the reopening of schools had “worked well” and that he did not foresee any changes to the timeline for the return of other students, despite the rising cases of the virus.
Mr Martin added that the Government would make a “comprehensive announcement” early next week to tell people what will happen after April 5, when the current restrictions are due to lapse.
His remarks come as a senior health official warned Ireland is in danger of facing another wave of Covid-19 cases.
Monday saw one further death from coronavirus in Ireland and another 520 confirmed cases, a decline on the 768 reported on Sunday.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the numbers have been “volatile”.
“We’re at least static and there has been a drift upwards in the five-day moving average over the last few days,” he told a briefing on Monday.
Dr Glynn said the reason for the stagnation in falling case numbers was “a mixed picture”.
He said: “For example, in Limerick we have a student outbreak that’s ongoing.
“We have a number of outbreaks in the Irish travelling community in a number of counties across the country.
“We have a small number of outbreaks in schools, and I think a well-publicised outbreak in a childcare facility in Offaly.
“We have a number of outbreaks in workplaces particularly meat processing facilities.
“There isn’t one outbreak dominating in only one area of the country.”
He said there were also issues with household outbreaks and an influx of cases following St Patrick’s Day.
“It’s all adding up to the stasis that we’re seeing, unfortunately” he added.
We do need to be conscious of all of the exposures that happen around schoolsDr Philip Nolan, National Public Health Emergency Team
There is “some concern” about a possible increase in cases among children up to the age of 12, Dr Philip Nolan of the National Public Health Emergency Team said.
“I would be confident in the level of investigation that colleagues in public health are doing on that, when they tell us that there is very low detection and very low probability of transmission within schools.
“I’m certainly not concerned about this. We do need to be conscious of all of the exposures that happen around schools. Getting to and from schools, social interaction outside the school setting and so on.
“It’s a very high level of investigation of any concerns about transmissions in schools.
“But at the same time we are seeing, possibly, an increase in incidence in children of school-going age, which we’ll have to analyse and monitor very closely over the coming fortnight.”
There has been a total of 4,588 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.
The HSE’s lead for infection control, Professor Martin Cormican, described case numbers as “stuck” and possibly rising.
Sunday saw 769 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed by the Department of Health, the highest daily increase in cases reported since February 26.
There were also two more deaths of people with Covid-19.
It makes no difference to the virus if it is a wake or a birthday partyProfessor Martin Cormican
Prof Cormican told RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme: “[Cases] are pretty much stuck, possibly going back upwards a bit. There’s a real danger of another surge.
“We certainly all hoped to be in a better place than we are. We need to deal with the reality of where we are and we need to be very careful.”
Prof Cormican described the increase in case numbers as disappointing and urged the public to continue in their social distancing efforts because the more people come together, the more the virus spreads.
“That’s really hard because what’s got us through so far is that people have put up with a great deal of isolation and loneliness, and burdened it as necessary to control the virus,” he said.
“Unfortunately it is still necessary because the new strain does seem to spread faster than the one we were used to. And that makes everything harder and makes it harder for everyone.”
He added: “The vast majority of people are trying really hard to adhere to the restrictions as much of the time as they possibly can.
“There are some people who are less careful and I suppose we continue to appeal to them and to explain to them that the risks that they’re taking is not just a risk for them, the risk that they’re taking is a risk for everyone they know and care about in the two weeks after they take that risk.”
Prof Cormican said the situation in hospitals had improved and described schools as stable, but warned they were seeing a spread in infection in workplaces and other settings where people gather together, such as birthday parties and wakes.
“It makes no difference to the virus if it is a wake or a birthday party,” he added.
His comments come as the country’s long-awaited mandatory quarantine system is set to become operational later this week.
People arriving from 33 countries flagged as high risk will have to quarantine in hotels for 14 days.
Mandatory quarantine will also apply to people arriving into Ireland without a negative PCR test.
Meanwhile, as of March 18, 654,251 doses of Covid vaccines have been administered in Ireland.