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Public expecting ease in restrictions and changing current behaviour 'can allow virus to spread', Taoiseach warns

Recent seismic data indicated that people are out and moving around more in the last week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at today's press briefing in government buildings.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at today's press briefing in government buildings.
Image: RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he doesn’t want to be waving “the big stick” to remind people to abide by Covid-19 measures, but said the government is fearful of changes in behaviour before any ease in restrictions. 

Speaking today at Government Buildings, Varadkar said the “common sense” of the public will serve as a reminder that the government will be looking at recent public data when deciding what new measures will be in place from 5 May onwards. 

“There is direct connection between what people do and what we do as a society in the next seven to 11 days, and whether it’s possible to ease the restrictions,” the Taoiseach said. 

I don’t want to be kind of threatening anyone. I’m not sort of trying to wave the big stick here or anything, but I think the common sense of the public will tell them themselves that we’re going to be looking very closely at the data over the next couple of days, over the next week, and they can impact on that.

He said that the public anticipating an ease in restrictions and altering their behaviour is a fear for the government and the Chief Medical Officer.  

“You’ll recall that when the restrictions were put in place, in many ways people knew what was going to happen, they anticipated in advance,” he said. 

“Older people cocooned before we asked them to, shops closed, gyms closed, restaurants closed, before we directed them to. In many ways that was a good thing, but the reverse can happen in the recovery phase as well.”

He said the public anticipating the easing of restrictions and engaging in increased social activity “can allow the virus to spread”.  

“So the fact that we’re seeing that anticipated behavior, that people are already starting to be more lax in what they’re doing is a real worry, and it’s going to make it harder to come out of this.”

Recent seismic data 

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday warned the public against “slacking off” with restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 as new data indicates people are out and moving around more in the last week.

At the Department of Health briefing, Holohan presented data from the Irish National Seismic Network, which picks up earthquake activity but which can also pick up activity involving other movements such as traffic.

It showed a very significant reduction in seismic noise after strict restrictions were implemented. However, in the last number of days, an increase in activity can be seen.

“This is giving us hard evidence that there is more population movement in spite of our continuing advice and gives us an evidential basis for some of the concerns we have been expressing,” Dr Holohan said.

Dublin Bus contacted the government yesterday to report an increase in passenger numbers day-on-day this week. All days this week showed levels above those seen in previous weeks. 

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When asked about a potential second wave of Covid-19, Varadkar said second waves are “quite common” with other viruses, but we are still learning about this coronavirus. 

“H1N1 had at least two waves if not more, certain the Spanish flu did as well so second waves can happen with viruses,” he said. 

“We see evidence of a second wave already in Asia, in Japan for example, where they have had to reimpose restrictions.

That’s not entirely down to what people do, that could be the natural history of the virus so I wouldn’t like to connect it too closely.

“I think the vast majority of people are getting the message and the vast majority of people are cooperating, the vast majority of the time.”

The Taoiseach appealed to people to remember the next 11 days are going to be “crucial”, and added that people are “probably sick of hearing that the next ten days” or so are going to be crucial. 

“We do want to be in a position to do the first phase of easing restrictions on the fifth of May, but that isn’t going to be possible if the virus starts to reproduce again, at a faster rate, and that is entirely within our hands.”

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