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Spread of deadly virus 'has now stabilised'

Experts believe it paves the way for easing of restrictions in May

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Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, and Prof. Phllip Nolan, Chair of NPHET, Irish Epidemioligical Modelling Advisory Group pictured this evening at a Covid -19 update press conference at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, and Prof. Phllip Nolan, Chair of NPHET, Irish Epidemioligical Modelling Advisory Group pictured this evening at a Covid -19 update press conference at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, and Prof. Phllip Nolan, Chair of NPHET, Irish Epidemioligical Modelling Advisory Group pictured this evening at a Covid -19 update press conference at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The spread of the coronavirus has stabilised, paving the way for the easing of some restrictive emergency measures in early May.

However, Prof Philip Nolan of Maynooth University, who is leading a team modelling the pandemic in the Republic, said there continued to be a delicate balance between suppressing and spiking of the infection.

Any easing of restrictions would need to be "exceptionally careful".

His analysis comes as another 43 people died of the virus, bringing the death toll to 486.

The number of residents from nursing homes who died rose to 253, while clusters broke out in another four facilities.

Mater Hospital infectious disease consultant Jack Lambert repeated his warning that the manner in which a third of nursing homes have become engulfed with coronavirus is a national emergency.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan admitted: "The data clearly shows that there are two very different experiences of Covid-19 in Ireland today.

"In the population at large, the virus is contained and effectively suppressed.

"However, the experience of the disease in long-term residential care settings continues to be a source of concern.

"In order to protect the vulnerable, the first task was to suppress the virus in the population at large. We are increasingly confident that we are achieving this.

"All of our efforts now need to be on extinguishing Covid-19 in our community residential settings, including nursing homes."

Figures show that there has been a slight drop in the number of seriously ill patients with the virus in intensive care, falling to 156. Some 90 of the patients were discharged and there have been 44 deaths.

Prof Nolan said a key element showing the way the virus spread had stabilised was seen in the R0, or reproductive number, which needs to be below 1.0 to show somebody with the virus is passing it on to less than one person.

"We now estimate our R0 to be between 0.7 and 1.0, which means current restrictions are successfully suppressing the disease," he said.

Other indicators are intensive-care admissions and the daily growth in new cases which is close to zero.

He said if there was any relaxation in measures it needed to be carefully monitored to ensure that they were reintroduced should there be another rise in the R0.

Asked about reports that there was an instruction not to transfer residents in Maryborough Centre for Psychiatry of Old Age in Portlaoise, where nine residents died of the virus over the weekend, Dr Colm Henry of the HSE said this was not the case.

He said senior doctors from Portlaoise Hospital visited the facility over the weekend and provided the residents with very good care.

Responding to questions from the Opposition, the Taoiseach said Covid-19 would "exact a significant toll" on the population in nursing homes.

"I think we need to remember that this virus is in our community, nursing homes and long term care facilities are part of our community and once in the community, the virus targets those who are old, those who are infirm and those with underlying medical conditions," Mr Varadkar said.

"And for that reason it is going to exact a significant toll on our nursing home population and the people who live there and also long term care settings.

"It's our job to make sure that we minimise and reduce that toll and that impact as much as we possibly can."

He said the Government was attempting to minimise this as much as possible by increasing financial support, providing more personal protective equipment (PPE), more testing, and extra staff.

Meanwhile, research conducted on behalf of the Department of Health shows that 28pc of the population say they have delayed seeking medical care in the last month.

The nationally representative online survey of 1,270 adults, conducted yesterday, revealed women are significantly more likely than men to have delayed seeking medical attention at 34pc to 21pc.

Fear of potential infection is the main reason for delaying seeking medical attention especially for women (59pc) and under-35s (63pc).

The percentage of people behaving safely continues to rise for behaviours such as washing hands (94pc), using sanitiser (92pc) and coughing into their elbow (77pc).

The survey, looking at how the crisis is affecting behaviour and health, is conducted twice weekly.

The Government has previously encouraged people who are sick to get treatment.

Irish Independent


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