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HSE urges people to build 'social bubble' of friends and to socialise outdoors

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The HSE is now actively encouraging people to get out and exercise for the first time since the coronavirus hit and even create a 'social bubble' of friends who can meet up with outdoors.

The group of up to four people from different households should happen outdoors and everyone must practise physical distancing, keeping two metres apart.

Ideally the same group of relatives or friends from different households should meet instead of expanding the get-together to a wider network.

It comes as the country began its first day of easing lockdown restrictions and the tragic toll of people dying from the virus fell to a new daily low of four.

The number of newly confirmed cases of the disease dropped to 88 yesterday.

Dr Siobhán Ní Bhriain, a consultant psychiatrist and HSE integrated care lead, said: "Moving into a new phase in Ireland's response to Covid-19, we now have an opportunity to increase our exercise activity up to 5km and participate with a friend outside of the household.

"I would urge anyone who can to take advantage of this in order to improve mental health and well-being."

She said she would be "cautious" about meeting in back gardens because that could run the risk of people having to retreat indoors.

She advised to keep the group to the same friends instead of separate groups and emphasised that physical distancing is essential.

It also emerged that a loss of taste and smell is expected to be added to the list of symptoms which GPs should look out for in patients who may have the coronavirus.

Asked if he would follow yesterday's decision by the UK to add anosmia, the scientific name for the loss of taste and smell, to the list of symptoms, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said it is under consideration.

Research in the UK indicates that if someone wakes up and cannot smell the coffee, it may indicate they have Covid-19, particularly affecting women in their thirties and forties.

Dr Holohan said he was concerned 46pc of people now think the "worst is over" - up from 43pc last week.

"We don't believe it is. This is some cause for concern," he said.

"It tells us we need to keep an eye on this and the disease indicators that we are tracking."

He said the reports he received on the first day of loosening the lockdown was that retailers were behaving responsibly.

From this week, GPs are for the first time able to refer people for a test who feel well and have no symptoms if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

He also indicated some patients who are being admitted to hospital are likely to be tested.

Irish Independent