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Coronavirus Q&A: When will lockdown end, why are we sending our swabs to Germany and are people recovering?

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We are now further away from the end of lockdown than when it was first introduced. What’s going on?

The decision to extend the lockdown to May 5 was recommended by public health officials who are keen to avoid a spike in cases which could be caused by people engaging in normal behaviour after restrictions are lifted. It seems patterns that emerge in other countries will have a role in determining when normality resumes here. Austria and the Czech Republic have eased their restrictions recently and will be watched closely in the coming weeks.

Why was there a big hullabaloo over holiday homes and long weekends?

The important thing for health officials is to cut down on the number of cases linked to community transmission, cases where it cannot be determined how a person picked up coronavirus. People leaving their homes for the weekend to stay in other parts of the country increases the risk of them carrying the infection to new areas, or picking it up and bringing it home. With two bank holidays between now and the start of May, officials felt a need to act decisively.

OK, but that’s it after the May Bank Holiday, right?

Not necessarily. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is adamant “there’s no magic figure” that indicates when this will end, but experts will be keeping a close eye on hospitalisations, ICU figures and the number of new cases that will continue to emerge.

When we get out of lockdown really depends on how well lockdown goes for our hospitals. Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said we will see a relaxation on measures over time, but these can be reintroduced if cases become problematic again.

How are our numbers looking?

After some confusion last week, Ireland now has 8,928 Covid-19 cases. This may seem like a significant jump from the previous week — we had 4,600 cases a week ago — and can partially be attributed to the inclusion of numbers from swabs sent to Germany for testing.

Initially, there were 7,054 cases last Friday, but this figure did not include more than 1,000 positive results returned from German labs. As of last night, we have had 8,928 positive cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, and 320 deaths.

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The growth in cases is still hovering around the 10pc mark, which is considered pretty good, but any increase would be worrying and will put hospitals under considerable pressure.

Why are we sending swabs to Germany?

Backlogs mean some 14,000 tests were sent to Germany for analysis to ease pressure here. While 1,035 of these showed a positive result, and the figures were logged by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, they were not included in the overall total announced by the Department of Health every day.

Its explanation was that these tests were not determined to be new results because they were part of a backlog. They have now been added to the overall tally.

What is happening with tests?

The HSE says it is now in a position to process 4,500 tests a day. At the start of last week it was only doing a third of this number because of a global shortage of chemicals needed to analyse a test. It said the German agreement helps improve turnaround times for tests.

Some people have been waiting two weeks for a result and recovered from the illness by the time they found out they had Covid-19. A HSE lab in Cherry Orchard, Dublin, came online last week to help, and a Department of Agriculture lab is also boosting capacity.

Will this help those tested get results sooner?

In theory, it should — but there is currently no automated process for uploading lab results. The process has been developed over the past four weeks, and can scale up to deal with more than 2,000 new cases a day. The HSE admits this needs to get better but promises improvements are on the way.

It should also help with contact tracing. There were 1,700 people trained to carry out contact tracing. At the moment, 200 of these are deployed every day because this is deemed sufficient for the number of cases in Ireland but there is capacity here to increase this if testing speeds up. Last week, political party leaders were told 53,000 tests had been analysed in labs.

Are people recovering?

The Sunday Independent asked the Department of Health for the number of people who have made a recovery from coronavirus. Details were not provided but there is anecdotal evidence of people making a full recovery. It is also clear that some of those healthcare workers infected in the early stages of this crisis are now beginning to return to work.

Doctors are keen to emphasise that while some groups are at risk most people should be able to make a full recovery.

But we still need a vaccine. What is happening with that?

It has been labelled the modern holy grail, so there is a huge global push to develop a vaccine. It is estimated it could take up to 18 months to develop one that is safe to use, but companies insist they can have one in place within 12 months. They will be helped by anxiety around the disease and willingness by regulatory bodies to fast-track licensing. Many experts feel some restrictions will have to remain in place until a jab is in place, hence the urgency.

And the Leaving Cert is postponed. What happens now?

It is hoped that schools will be able to retain examiners and rooms that would have been available for the Junior Cert exams. Using these resources means young people sitting their Leaving Cert can continue to adhere to social distancing when exams take place.

Students will not see an exam paper until restrictions are sufficiently lifted. So July, or even August, looks like when the Leaving Cert is most likely to happen.

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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