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Appeal: Leo Varadkar called on people to stay at home

Appeal: Leo Varadkar called on people to stay at home

Appeal: Leo Varadkar called on people to stay at home

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there is "no magic figure" that will dictate when the coronavirus restrictions can start to be lifted as they were last night extended for another three weeks.

The Government hopes strict limits on public movement can begin to ease next month - but there appeared to be no end in sight for the public as Mr Varadkar warned they could be reimposed if the rate of new cases starts to increase again.

The current set of restrictions has been extended in its entirety until May 5, following a recommendation from public health officials.

While stressing the extraordinary measures had worked in slowing the rate of increase in new cases of the disease, Mr Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris said more work needed to be done and the public should continue to stay at home.

Education Minister Joe McHugh confirmed that the Leaving Certificate exams have been postponed until late July and August, while the Junior Certificate exams will be replaced by school-based assessments.

Mr Varadkar said it was his "fervent" hope the Government could begin to unwind restrictions next month - but he could not guarantee this and insisted they would not be eased in one go.

Speaking at Government Buildings, he said much would depend on the continuing compliance of the general public over the next three weeks.

"They won't be eased in one go. They'd have to be done bit by bit and we'll also have to see whether the virus starts to circulate and rise again once restrictions are eased, because then they might have to be reimposed," Mr Varadkar said.

"There's no magic figure that we're looking for, but the kind of thing we'll be looking at will be hospitalisations, whether they're stabilising or falling or increasing.

"Same thing goes for the number of people who are in our ICUs, also the number of new cases and the percentage increase in new cases."

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He said in three weeks the Government will also have "some idea as to how countries in Europe that are planning to ease restrictions have done".

The Taoiseach said the easing of restrictions in some EU countries, including Austria and the Czech Republic, was not a risk he was willing to take in Ireland yet.

"What we want to do in Ireland is avoid the scenes and the awful experience that people are having in Spain, Italy, and the UK and France and it's our objective to achieve that and I believe we can," he said.

Mr Harris said regulations giving gardaí the power to enforce the Covid-19 restrictions would be extended until May 5.

Mr Varadkar said he did not want people to report their neighbours for breaching the restrictions as he had observed is happening in other countries.

"I don't think we will suppress this virus by becoming the valley of the squinting windows. I think we'll suppress this virus by doing the right thing by each other, and doing the right thing by our neighbours, and by following the advice," he said.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) did consider further restrictions at its meeting, but recommended the current regime be extended.

He said the number of people who are being infected by a patient who has the disease - the so-called R0 rate - has dropped to two but that if this decrease stalls, then further restrictions would be considered. Amid growing confusion about the backlog of people awaiting testing and test results, Dr Holohan and health officials admitted last night they did not have specific figures for these.

He said it was the intention of the HSE to clear a backlog for test results within days via the use of a German lab and have a testing regime with a 48-hour or quicker turnaround time "as quickly as possible".

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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