Christina Finn
easing restrictions

Harris says 20km rule important to avoid virus being brought into less affected areas

The number of Covid-19 cases in ICU has fallen to 36, according to the latest figures.

THE NUMBER OF confirmed cases of Covid-19 in intensive care units around the country has fallen to 36, according to the latest figures.

The peak number of patients requiring ICU care occurred on 4 April, with 160 people in intensive care beds. There were 70 people in ICU when the lockdown restrictions were introduced. 

The latest figures show there were 65 confirmed Covid-19 cases in acute hospitals last night.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Health Minister Simon Harris said the figures would continue to be monitored over the next day or so before a decision is made by Cabinet on Friday as to whether the country can proceed to Phase 2 of lifting restrictions.

“One of the figures I will be interested in seeing tomorrow is the reproduction rate,” he said, adding that if the number stays below one it means the virus is being suppressed.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is due to meet tomorrow and will make a recommendation to government thereafter.

“My general sense of it is that Phase 2 looks right to me,” he said when asked if measures from later phases may be brought forward to Phase 2.

“My gut is that if we get through Phase 1 and Phase 2 that would be a real confidence boost before we move on and see the big changes in Phases 3 and 4,” he said.

He said there is a “healthy debate” ongoing about the pace of the plan, but said he would prefer to move slower than too fast and then have to reverse some of the measures.

On the scrapping of the 20km travel guidelines, Harris said:

“There is a reason for these restrictions. Some parts of our country haven’t seen a case in weeks and if we all start getting in our cars and travelling there tomorrow” there is a risk of spread, he said. 

He said the strategy is based on people keeping close to their home, “and then gradually, gradually” over the course of the summer the distance will increase.

Harris said opening things too fast would risk spreading the virus to other parts of the country.

He questioned politicians stating that there is no scientific rationale for the measure. Harris said the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has recommended it, and he has seen no studies to dispute the measure.

Last week, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he saw no scientific basis or justification for the 5km and 20km travel restrictions.

Yesterday, the National Transport Authority said that capacity levels on public transport have now reached what had been predicted for Phase 2, stating that there has been an increase in passenger numbers.

Harris said there is a sign there has been more movement. Public transport should only be used for essential journeys, said Harris.

The minister said he is concerned about the level of cases being reported because of close contact with others, stating that figures show that more than 50% of cases are due to close contact with an infected person.

He did state “overall the metrics are positive”. 

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