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Harris hopes to ease measures in May but warns not to expect 'significant lifting of restrictions'

Lifting the restrictions will be “complex” and “delicate” according to the Minister for Health.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said that while he hopes that restrictions placed upon the Irish public can be lifted at the beginning of May, we will “not see a significant lifting of restrictions” at this time.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Harris said it’s important “not to erase the progress the Irish people have made” to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 as lifting all the restrictions could lead to the number of cases rising sharply again.

The public has been faced with restrictions for well over a month now, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar first announcing schools, colleges and public institutions would close on 12 March.

Later that month, wider restrictions were brought in for a large majority of the population to remain at home. Current exceptions to leaving home include essential workers travelling to work, and people going to shops for essential items, for vital family healthcare reasons or to take physical exercise within a 2km radius.

These restrictions will remain in place until 5 May at the earliest, and gardaí have special powers to arrest people who don’t comply with their instructions on the public health guidelines.

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland is 13,271, and 486 people have died from the virus here.

Health officials said last night that the reproduction rate of the virus – the number of people who are infected by someone who has the virus – is now between 0.7 and 1.0. If this figure remains below one and continues to fall, it’ll mean that the virus isn’t being passed to other people. 

Harris said this morning that the original reproduction rate of the virus was 4.7 – meaning one person infected almost five other people on average – last month and the fall to where it is now is “quite incredible”. 

Lifting restrictions placed upon Irish people on the back of this progress will be “complex, delicate” and involve “trial and error” according to the health minister.

“If you just lifted the restrictions, this curve would shoot right back up,” Harris said. “We’re not going to erase the progress the Irish people have made.

We would like to put in place a plan for gradual easing of restrictions.

Harris said this gradual easing will not involve us going back to life “as we knew it” straight away.

He said he’d like to see the gradual easing of restrictions as a “dividend” to the people of Ireland for the action they’ve taken during the crisis. 

“In the first week of May, you will not see a significant lifting of restrictions,” he said, adding that if the ICU numbers continue to stabilise and the reproduction rate continues to fall then it’s hoped that the easing of restrictions can be begin.

We’ll have to monitor it carefully. We don’t want to go the way of Italy, or Spain or the UK. That means staying the course.

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“It will be led by Dr Tony Holohan,” Harris added. “Public health is priority number one, two and three in that regard.”

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Sean Murray

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