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Sunshine raises worries over social distancing as sunseekers flock to the beaches

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People enjoy the sunshine at Seapoint, Co Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

People enjoy the sunshine at Seapoint, Co Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Tom Murphy from the Maharees Foil Surfing on Flat Water Hydrofoil with the help of Jamie Knox and John Murphy. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Tom Murphy from the Maharees Foil Surfing on Flat Water Hydrofoil with the help of Jamie Knox and John Murphy. Photo: Domnick Walsh

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People enjoy the sunshine at Seapoint, Co Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

As the country basked in glorious sunshine yesterday there was concern about people failing to adhere to restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

It came as health officials appealed the public to adopt a cautious approach as the number of new cases jumped 50pc yesterday compared with the previous evening.

Any increase in cases will be met with concern among officials as the country edges closer to entering phase two of the road map to reopen the country.

"Moving into next week, we need to look back at the progress we have made over the past number of weeks and maintain our efforts to suppress Covid-19 into the future," a Department of Health spokesman said yesterday.

"As we enter the last week of phase one, it is encouraging to see ICU and hospital admissions declining, the number of new cases remaining stable and a 90pc recovery rate.

"But we cannot afford to stop the hard work involved in suppressing this virus."

Phase two of the reopening plan is set to begin in just over a week on June 8. But officials have insisted until now that the country can only progress through the plan if it is clear the virus is being contained.

The number of new cases reported yesterday was 59, an increase of 20 compared with the previous day.

Figures released yesterday evening by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) also confirmed another nine Covid-19-related deaths. It means there have now been 1,651 deaths linked to the virus and 24,929 confirmed cases since the crisis began.

There are concerns the good weather will hamper efforts to suppress the virus.

Yesterday, gardai in Kerry asked to local county council to shut Inch beach and its car park because of high traffic volumes around it on the Dingle peninsula.

There is a small population living in the area around the strand and this led to concerns that some sunseekers were breaching the 5km travel rule limiting the movement of people to visit the beach for recreation.

The local authority moved to remind people of the 5km rule yesterday.

Elsewhere crowds of people were present along seafronts and beaches in urban areas but were understood to be from local residential areas. Other strands and beaches in country areas had much smaller attendances.

Garda checkpoints were in operation in several areas checking on compliance with Covid-19 travel regulations.

In Tramore in Co Waterford, normally a hive of visitor activity at this time of year, there were many empty parking spaces along the prom and local car parks.

Gardai operating a checkpoint outside the resort town turned back only a small number of motorists as the bulk of sunbathers and swimmers were from the area or lived within 5km of the beach.

At Salthill in Galway, gardai advised some youths about their social-distancing obligations but overall the large numbers of people enjoying the amenity were shown to be following official advice.

Gardai issued statements yesterday to the public, asking them to abide by the current regulations.

"We would like to remind everyone to please continue to comply with advice on social distancing and essential travel," a garda spokesman said.

"Those meeting outside should do so in groups of four or less, within your five kilometre area, keeping a two metre distance at all times."

The good weather also led to apprehension about the risk of fires in forests and upland areas. Wicklow and Sligo county councils both appealed to the public to remain vigilant of fire risks. Fire service personnel in Sligo had already attended fires in Doorley Park, Hill Wood and Union Wood before the appeal was issued yesterday.

It came as the HSE said a field testing of a Covid-19 contact-tracing app is due to begin in Ireland this week.

The app is designed to maximise privacy and value for public health, the health service added.

The software will operate on a voluntary and opt-in basis and will help track down those in close contact with positive cases of the disease.

A HSE statement said yesterday: "The app is being prepared for field testing which is due to commence next week.

"This will validate the use of Exposure Notification Service (ENS) to trace close contacts.

"The Exposure Notification Service (ENS) has been developed by Apple and Google."

The app will be launched once it is fully operational and the necessary approvals have been received from the Data Protection Commissioner, health experts from the National Public Health Emergency Team, HSE and the Government.

The HSE added: "The Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) will be submitted to the Data Protection Commissioner and will be made available along with the technical documents and source code before the launch of the app."

The HSE's app will operate through a voluntary and decentralised tracking system.

The British government's app uses a centralised model, with data stored and analysed on a central server.

Northern Ireland's contact tracing is being carried out exclusively by telephone.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann has said officials are still considering which app will be the best fit.

He has said a Northern Ireland version may be necessary to ensure it worked with the one being developed in the Republic.

Over seven days, from May 19-25, 212 cases were contact traced, about 30 per day, by 99 health and social care staff who have been redeployed in Northern Ireland.

A contact-tracing programme, aimed to identify and alert people who have come into contact with a person infected with coronavirus, was piloted in Northern Ireland from April 27 before being fully rolled out earlier in May.

Sunday Independent