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'There does seem to be an increase in traffic': Don't let complacency scupper progress, Taoiseach warns

Ministers are warning that people need to respect the restrictions if progress is to be maintained.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has echoed comments made by Health Minister Simon Harris last night, warning against complacency in the battle to contain and slow the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking at an event in Dublin today, he said he had noticed an increase in people out and about in recent days.

Current restrictions on movement are in place until 5 May at the earliest.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said on Friday’s Late Late Show that Ireland had had success in flattening the curve, and that the restrictions introduced in recent weeks had helped save hundreds of lives.

“I share the Minister of Health’s concerns about that. Certainly anecdotally and speaking to people, there does seem to have been an increase in traffic and an increase in people out and about,” the Taoiseach said today.

“It is okay for people to be out and about so long as they observe social distancing. It is okay for people to travel provided those journeys are necessary.

We do, however, have a concern not yet backed up by numbers – but we may have numbers later today – that there has been a little bit of complacency setting in. That worries us because we are making real progress in terms of predicting the rate the virus is spreading and we don’t want to lose that.

The deaths of a further 39 people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Ireland were announced yesterday evening. There are now a total of 15,251 confirmed cases here. 

In his video message on Twitter last night, Harris said the progress made by the Irish people risks being undone if people become complacent.

Harris warned progress made so far was “fragile”.

He said: “There’s an air of complacency creeping in in relation to Ireland’s battle against Covid-19 and we have to push back against it.

“We’re at a very delicate moment and it would not take much for that to be reversed.

“I’m hearing stories of people beginning to somewhat relax their interpretation of the phrase ‘stay at home’ or the 2km rule, and I really need to appeal to you not to do that.

Do not allow complacency to set in. Do not allow us to say: ‘Ah sure, we’re going well in Ireland and I can let the foot off the pedal.’ That would be disastrous. It could potentially be fatal.

Road map to lift restrictions

The Taoiseach said a plan, which will set out a road map for lifting restrictions, will be ready at the end of April /early May in advance of the 5 May. 

The plan will indicate how to reopen the country in different steps and what critieria would have to be met to move from one step to the next.

“Until we have that, I would prefer not to speculate,” said Varadkar when asked about the possibility of re-opening schools on a staggered basis, as was flagged by the health minister over the weekend.

“I understand a lot of people are finding the lockdown difficult and I’d prefer not to raise hopes or raise expectations only to dash them,” he said.

Varadkar said they are looking at plans published by other countries on how they are lifting the restrictions. He added that he wanted to give people certainty, and can only do that when the roadmap is finished and agreed.

The senior officials group, which is made up of representatives of all the government departments, is drafting the plan. Varadkar said the group will seek advice and expertise from industry, from unions and from all the stakeholders. 

Anti-body test

Varadkar said it would be “really useful” if an antibody test for Covid-19 became available next month.

“This is a new virus and it is a virus we have only known about for a couple of months. The science on it is very uncertain. If you look around the world, different viruses spread differently.

“We see in Japan – they are one of the first countries to experience a second wave. One of the islands in Japan that lifted its restrictions three weeks ago has had to oppose them.

“Scientists are saying and speculating that this is a virus that will come in waves, and that is probably true, and that is what you would expect. We have no concept of being exposed to it and we won’t know that until there is an accurate antibody test – and there is none yet.

“Roche and some other companies say they may have an antibody test next month. If we get that, that would be really useful as it would allow us to do a zero prevalence survey that would let us know how many people in the country have had the virus – it could be between 0-25 per cent – we just don’t know.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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