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3,500 lives 'may have been saved' as roadmap to relax lockdown on way

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Dr Tony Holohan said a roadmap is on the way.

Dr Tony Holohan said a roadmap is on the way.

Colin Keegan

Dr Tony Holohan said a roadmap is on the way.

Hopes of any significant relaxation in emergency measures to combat coronavirus were dashed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday who said now is not the time for change.

Earlier, Health Minister Simon Harris said more than 3,500 lives may have been saved by the lockdown so far.

Dr Holohan said although the growth in new cases has continued to fall and there is a recent drop in the number of patients hospitalised and in intensive care, the overall toll is still too high.

He was speaking in advance of today's meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team which is expected to recommend to the Government that there be a further extension of lockdown.

Disease

He indicated however that a road map, signalling the various stages for easing restrictions in various areas will be unveiled.

The idea is that if a measure is relaxed, there will be a three-week trial of how it is impacting on the spread of disease and if it is leading to a rise in cases.

"If further spread of the infection were to occur, we would get into difficulty sooner than if we had lower numbers," he said.

"We have over 100 patients in intensive care at the month. That is over 40-50pc of the capacity in place before this began. It is a sizeable number still." He revealed yesterday that another 43 people had died, taking the toll to 1,232.

Another 359 cases were detected and it means that 20,612 people have been infected here so far.

He said the report of COVID-19 cases in healthcare workers reveals that 34pc of cases relate to nurses, healthcare assistants amount to 24pc and cases among doctors is at 7pc .

"Since the pandemic began in Ireland, 72 nurses, 40 healthcare assistants, 22 doctors and 45 other allied healthcare workers have been hospitalised with Covid-19."

A psychologist has warned that a major surge in anxiety and depression in Ireland over the pandemic will happen only after the lockdown begins to be eased.

Stephen Watkins, of counselling service My Mind, said mental health experts are most concerned about what happens when travel controls are lifted - and people worried about the virus suddenly find themselves having to travel, work and cope with the economic fallout.

Experts fear that Ireland could face a crisis far greater than that experienced after the 2008/09 recession when incidents of self-harm soared.

Since the pandemic hit, Irish counselling services have experienced a 22pc increase in requests for online appointments - but acknowledged that the greatest surge in issues will arise only once the Government begins to lift restrictions.

Sterilise

Some people have been so terrified by the virus they spent hundreds of euro creating air pressure "bubbles" in their homes to protect themselves from Covid-19.

"I know people that have created air-locks in their living rooms so they can sterilise everything before they go in and out," said Mr Watkins.

Others have become fearful of leaving their homes and using such normal services as public transport, food outlets, shops or even churches and schools.

For many, anxiety over the virus is now slowly being replaced by fear of what the economic future holds.

"I think that as the restrictions continue, there is going to be a steady increase in calls as people find it more and more difficult to manage," Mr Watkins said.