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Coronavirus Ireland: Decision on easing lockdown restrictions will 'go down to the wire' - Dr Tony Holohan


Gardai stop and question people at a checkpoint on O'Connell Street in Dublin as the Covid-19 crisis continues
 (Niall Carson/PA)

Gardai stop and question people at a checkpoint on O'Connell Street in Dublin as the Covid-19 crisis continues (Niall Carson/PA)

Gardai stop and question people at a checkpoint on O'Connell Street in Dublin as the Covid-19 crisis continues (Niall Carson/PA)

A decision on relaxing coronavirus restrictions at the end of the current lockdown period will go down to the wire, the chief medical officer has said.

Dr Tony Holohan expressed concern that rates of improvement on key indicators of the disease had started to slow and said he was growing in his belief that it was still not the time to recommend an easing.

But he acknowledged that things may change in the days leading up to the end of the current restriction period on May 5.

Dr Holohan chairs the national public health emergency team (NPHET), which will make a formal recommendation to the Government on whether the lockdown can be scaled back.

"It is down to the wire and I haven't made my mind up," he said.

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,102 on Monday after a further 18 deaths were reported by the Department of Health.

There were 386 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the total in Ireland to 19,648 since the outbreak began.

Dr Holohan's warning came as the HSE detailed its plans to reach 100,000 Covid-19 tests a week by the middle of May.

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Meanwhile, on reports that a coronavirus-related syndrome among children may be emerging in the UK, Dr Holohan said there was no evidence of anything similar in Ireland.

The chief medical officer also said he did not think that relatively high incidences of the virus in several Irish border counties was linked to people with the infection travelling in from Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere, the Rose of Tralee became the latest high-profile event to fall victim to the emergency after it was announced the festival would not take place for the first time in its 61-year history.

Dr Holohan told the daily NPHET briefing: "I was saying towards the end of last week that if the assessment was being made on any of the days I was with you towards the end of last week that we wouldn't be recommending that we had arrived at a point where we would be lifting those restrictions.

"If anything, I am more firmly of that view, given what we are seeing."

He said ICU admissions were at a small though "persistent" rate and a further decrease was required.

He also said more progress was needed in tackling the outbreaks in the residential settings, such as nursing homes.

The number of outbreak clusters in nursing homes rose to 211 on Monday. Of those who have died with coronavirus in Ireland, 546 were nursing home residents.

"We're hopeful as the week goes on, there's still seven days left until May 5th, we're hopeful that we will continue to see improvements in terms of the experience, but there's still a way to go," he said.

"I might be the chair of a process but I am only one voice in it, we have many different voices, we'll have a discussion tomorrow, we'll take further about the kind of measures that are important for us to look at and the levels in relation to those measures and we'll seek to wait as long as possible before applying those measures.

"People are getting frustrated, these measures are challenging for people but we need to continue the commitment we have made to try to get as far as we possibly can."

Earlier on Monday, the HSE said it hoped to reach a target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per week by the middle of next month.

Outlining plans to upscale testing and contact tracing, HSE chief executive Paul Reid described it as a "key part" of the strategy to enable restrictions to be lifted.

"This will involve a major plan to scale up our capacity and make some changes in processes, put some new community testing centres in place and ultimately deliver a higher volume," he said.

Mr Reid also said the primary focus has been testing staff and residents in all long-term residential care places.

He added: "This has been a very important programme and I'd like to thank the National Ambulance Service in conjunction with our community teams who have over the past week tested over 20,000 residents in those locations.

"We're also launching many of our clinical assessment hubs all across the country and 20 clinical assessment hubs are now in place."

Mr Reid said the HSE was making "good progress" on the challenges around sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE), with extra deliveries coming in from China.

The organisers of the Rose of Tralee Festival said it will be held again in August 2021.

They said: "This is the first time in our 61-year history that the festival has been postponed, but it is the right decision as we play our part right now in keeping each other safe and well."

Meanwhile, the organisation representing people with intellectual disabilities said it had a positive meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris.

The discussions came amid continuing concern about outbreaks of Covid-19 in long-term residential care homes.

Inclusion Ireland said 90 per cent of disability services are free from the virus and those that have an outbreak are by and large managing well. There have been 10 deaths in disability services settings.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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