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Renewed hope we can ease the lockdown as new coronavirus cases lowest in weeks

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Case tracking: Philip Nolan is advising the Government. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Case tracking: Philip Nolan is advising the Government. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

Case tracking: Philip Nolan is advising the Government. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

New daily cases of coronavirus are at their lowest level in weeks - offering some degree of optimism that Ireland is on course to begin easing its lockdown.

Just 137 people were diagnosed with the virus yesterday, while the number of patients in intensive care dropped to 76. It had reached 140 at one point.

And fewer than two cases are being admitted to hospital daily, down from four to six last week, according to Professor Philip Nolan of Maynooth University, who is advising the Government on trends.

He also revealed the R number - which indicates how many people a person with the virus is likely to infect - had fallen to 0.5 to 0.6, down from the 5 or 6 in late February or early March. By mid-March, it was around 1.6.

"There has been great success up to now and we need to find ways to keep the spread of the virus at a very low level for many weeks to come," he said.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was "increasingly hopeful we can start exiting lockdown on a phased basis from May 18".

He added: "We are seeing a range of trends that give us reason for optimism."

He added there was a continued pattern of improvement that gave "reason for encouragement", but he wants to see more improvement before coming to a formal assessment at the end of next week.

"These weeks are just as important as the first weeks of the response," he added.

"Our behaviours are crucial to maintaining our progress".

He was speaking as the deaths of a further 29 people from the virus were confirmed, bringing the toll to 1,403. The spread of the virus in community residential centres, including nursing homes, is also slowing. So far there have been 5,485 cases in these centres, with an increase of 115 yesterday compared to Wednesday.

Some 4,309 of these have been in nursing homes, a rise of 41 in the space of a day.

Asked whether he and his officials would meet with vintners who are anxious to fast forward the opening of pubs ahead of the roadmap timetable, Dr Holohan said his role was to give public health advice.

It is a matter for various sectors to apply that to their own sectors which they knew best, he added.

He said they should "take ownership" of the health advice and shape their own plans.

Questioned on whether the Leaving Cert should proceed in July, now that the trends in the spread of the virus were more favourable, he said it was important that social distancing and the amount of time spent in close contact were observed.

He said it was a matter for the Department of Education to decide because its officials know more about the "operation of exams" than his team.

Hospitals will have to continue to have surge capacity to ensure they are ready for any rise in the spread of the virus in the coming months.

Liam Woods of the HSE said there was evidence that more people were attending A&E and there were fewer beds free.

There are 1,300 beds available now, but the number is falling. Hospitals are also seeing a rise in delayed discharges - patients who are medically fit but need a step down place in a nursing home - and their numbers have risen to 325.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed yesterday that many cancer patients are now losing out on the chance of seeing if they could respond to new treatment due to the slowdown in the number of new drug trials since the coronavirus crisis hit.

Beaumont Hospital oncologist Dr Bryan Kennedy said the number had significantly slowed and a planned trial to assess a treatment for pancreatic cancer was among those that had had to be put on hold.

These trials, overseen by Cancer Trials Ireland, can offer a potential option to patients who are no longer responding to conventional treatment.

"The major reason is that the Health Products Regulatory Authority in ethics committees are prioritising approving Covid-19-related trials at the moment," he said.

"Non-Covid trials are not being given the same priority."

He said that to start new trials required a lot of visits to hospital from the sponsor to educate staff and hold sessions.

This could not happen at the moment due to lockdown, transport and the staff working from home.

The HSE has appealed to people with any potential symptoms of cancer to seek medical help. The average number of patients with suspected cancer clinics has dropped to fewer than half of the total pre-Covid.

Irish Independent


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