Public health experts have shot down calls to reduce the two-metre social-distancing rule and warned it could lead to a fourfold increase in the transmission of the virus.
Senior health experts intervened amid growing political pressure to reduce the social-distancing restriction to one metre.
Yesterday, Fianna Fáil frontbench TD Darragh O’Brien insisted the two-metre distance should be halved and Labour Party leader Alan Kelly called for an audit of the impact of the restriction to one metre in the health service.
However, infectious disease specialist Professor Sam McConkey warned that reducing the distance could see the spread of the virus increase fourfold and could lead to the reopening of schools and the lifting of restrictions on air travel being delayed.
Public health expert and epidemiologist Dr Gabriel Scally said the two-metre rule is not the most important issue facing the Government and said the focus should remain on reducing the number of new Covid-19 cases.
Mr Scally's comments came as new HSE figures showed four more people were confirmed to have died from the virus yesterday.
Mr Scally said he would "err on the side of caution" on the two-metre rule and said "the falling numbers of cases and decreasing deaths are the important things".
"Once that goes down social distancing becomes less important because the virus will have been suppressed and if the virus is suppressed social distancing of one metres or two metres becomes an irrelevant discussion," he added.
Speaking on Newstalk's 'On The Record with Gavan Reilly', Mr McConkey said one-metre social distancing could result in "up to four times more transmission" because there will be a higher concentration of droplets which allow the virus to spread.
"We could make (the decision) as a nation to say yes we are going to one metre from each other, but then that would mean possibly that things like getting schools back or getting the airports open and tourists coming again might wait longer," he said.
The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry insisted there would be no immediate change to the two-metre rule as it had helped Ireland "not only bend that curve" but reduce the infection rate.
Dr Henry recognised the impact on HSE services and businesses throughout the State, but he confirmed the measure would stay in place for the foreseeable future due to concerns regarding droplets spreading the infection through the air.
"The HSE are governed by the decisions of Nphet and how they advise based on the best international advice," he said. "And we are informed from other countries and how they emerge from the pandemic, how they're refining that distance or otherwise, but at the moment, it's two metres based on the best available evidence we have."
Director general of the HSE Paul Reid said the rule has had "significant implications" for the health service in terms of emergency departments and waiting rooms. But he said he would be guided by the public health advice.
"One metre would certainly give us extra capacity in terms of managing outpatient departments and ED (emergency departments), or generally managing our services, but we will be guided by what the current guidance is from the Government through Nphet," he said.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the Government had "sown confusion" with the public over the two-metre rule and said Health Minister Simon Harris should examine whether the restriction could be eased. "If the public health advice allows for it, and we followed the WHO, it would make life much easier for society and businesses, like they have now done in France and other EU countries," he said.
On Twitter, Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Darragh O'Brien said the World Health Organisation's advice was to "maintain at least one metre distance between yourself and others".
"Changing to one would be a game-changer for thousands of businesses who are planning to reopen," he said, before adding: "If it's good enough for WHO, it should be good enough for Ireland (in my opinion)."
However, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said the party would be led by public health advice from Nphet, although he said reducing the distance would be "transformational".
"The party position is we have to be led by the public health advice, but if a case is to be made, we would strongly welcome it because it would make a huge difference to people, businesses, schools and colleges," he said.
"It would be transformational, but only if we got the nod from the public health officials and we have to be led by them on this."