New data shows social distancing is working but 'more needs to be done'

New data shows social distancing is working but 'more needs to be done'
The statue of Fr. Mathew with a mask at St. Patrick's Street, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

SOCIAL distancing measures have been credited with driving down Ireland's Covid-19 infection rate.

Experts on the National Public Health Emergency Team welcomed data showing the infection rate has dropped from 33% to 15% since restrictions on public life were first introduced earlier this month.

But the team warned that more needed to be done to further reduce infections to enable the healthcare system to cope with the looming peak in cases.

Philippa Henderson from West Cork is greeted by her mother, Anita, with a virtual hug after arriving home on an emergency repatriation flight from Peru yesterday afternoon at Dublin Airport. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Philippa Henderson from West Cork is greeted by her mother, Anita, with a virtual hug after arriving home on an emergency repatriation flight from Peru yesterday afternoon at Dublin Airport. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Leading epidemiologist Professor Philip Nolan said it would be another seven to 10 days before it could be determined whether the latest clamp down on movement, imposed by the Government on Friday night, had helped to further cut the infection rate.

Ireland's death toll rose to 54 on Monday, following the report of eight more deaths.

A total of 295 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the Republic, the highest daily total so far, bringing the overall number to 2,910.

Monday also saw the Government formalise an agreement with private hospitals to use all of their facilities during the Covid-19 crisis.

Prof Nolan said the trajectory of the infections would be much higher if the restrictions on movement had not been implemented.

"Clearly we're flattening the curve," he said.

"And by definition that pushes the peak further out. And that's good news. That's what we want.

"We need a lot more information before we can tell you how far out and how big that is, but the bottom line is we really need to suppress the curve, we need to flatten that much more (than 15%) in order to make it a manageable epidemic, and that's why the key message is: if you suspect you have this disease you really must ensure that you infect nobody else.

"If you infect more than one person on average, collectively we're going find it very difficult to manage this."

Six of the eight deaths reported on Monday occurred in the east of the country, one in the south and one in the west.

Five were female and three were male.

Under the tighter restrictions introduced on Friday, people have been ordered to remain in their homes in all but a limited set of specific circumstances until Sunday April 12.

Chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, challenged the suggestion that the Covid-19 infection rate could currently be lower if restrictions on movement had been introduced earlier.

Keeping their social distance at the Lough, Cork, were locals Tony Bennett, Derek Geaney and Michael O’Mahony. Picture Dan Linehan
Keeping their social distance at the Lough, Cork, were locals Tony Bennett, Derek Geaney and Michael O’Mahony. Picture Dan Linehan

He said introducing measures too early risked public fatigue when adherence was most needed and insisted the clamp down had been ordered at the "right time".

"We need to make more progress," he said.

"The line that we're on at the moment is a line that will still create a challenge for us as it peaks at a point in the future."

Dr Holohan said he and his team would only recommend a relaxation of current restrictions on movement when it was appropriate to do so.

"We won't recommend the lifting of these measures any point earlier than is responsible for us to do so," he said.

People being checked in on arrival at the Covid-19 test centre at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
People being checked in on arrival at the Covid-19 test centre at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

Dr Holohan was asked whether unrestricted movement across the Irish border should continue in the context of differing health policies on tackling the virus.

The senior medic said the issue of all-Ireland travel would be discussed today's meeting of the NPHET. He said potential further restrictions on movement onto the island would also be considered.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlined details of the state deal with private hospital sector earlier yesterday.

The agreement will see private hospitals being used to treat public patients throughout the outbreak.

The sector is made up of 19 hospitals and has an estimated bed capacity of just under 2,000 in-patient beds, 600 day-patient beds, 47 ICU beds and 54 high dependency unit beds.

It equates to an increase in capacity of 17%, which is approximately 11,000 extra inpatient beds and 2,300 day beds.

A Garda Checkpoint was in place on the Clonakilty to Bandon road which consisted of 3 regular Gardai and 2 Armed Gardai. Picture: Andy Gibson.
A Garda Checkpoint was in place on the Clonakilty to Bandon road which consisted of 3 regular Gardai and 2 Armed Gardai. Picture: Andy Gibson.

Under the agreement, the HSE will secure 100% of the capacity of private hospitals.

Mr Varadkar said: "All patients treated in private hospitals under this arrangement will be public patients.

"I think it is important to be clear what's happening here. This is not the nationalisation of private hospitals.

"This is a public private partnership, expanding our public health service in response to this emergency but also cooperation with the private sector."

"This is private and public sectors to learning and growing together and working together in the common good."

On Monday, Minister for Health Simon Harris met representatives from Nursing Homes Ireland after a total of 22 coronavirus outbreaks were reported in nursing homes.

He earlier said that restrictions put on people to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak cannot stay in place for very long and he is concerned about the nation's mental health.

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