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Covering faces on the cards in shops and on public transport, says chief

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

PA

Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris

PA

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

The public will be given guidance on the use of face coverings, as opposed to medical-grade face masks, at the end of this lockdown phase, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said last night.

He said they might be used when travelling on public transport, or in shops.

"We are not saying to rush out and use them now. We are working on guidance in the next two weeks," he added.

He was speaking after another extension of lockdown until May 18 - as the virus claimed another 34 lives. It brings the death toll to 1,265 so far.

Confidence

Another 221 newly confirmed cases of the virus were also detected, pushing the total infections so far to 20,150.

He said the considered advice to over 70s remains to stay at home if they can, but if people who are cocooning want to go for a daily walk they should do so and further guidelines will be available over the weekend.

Mr Holohan said if there is continued progress in suppressing the virus the group has a "high degree of confidence" restrictions can start being eased on May 18.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the "indicative roadmap" may be varied depending on the progress in fighting the disease.

"If it's possible to move more quickly, then of course we will do that," he said.

Mr Harris confirmed that under the plan people won't be able to visit family who live more than 20km away until the phase that's due to begin in July.

But he suggested some children will be able to visit grandparents who are over-70 from phase two, which begins on June 8.

There are currently 740 patients in hospital with the virus and there are still over 100 in intensive care.

The rate of clusters in residential centres is decreasing but an average of 200 new cases of the virus a day from this sector has been reported over recent days. Around 28pc of cases involve healthcare workers.

All of the data which point to continuing high numbers of cases give "cause for concern," he added.

"We concluded the current public health measures be extended for almost two weeks.

"We are conscious of the impact they have on people."

He accepted some of the measures were "blunt instruments" and that is why they looked at refining some of them, including expanding the 2km travel restriction to 5km.

Referring to people who were asked to cocoon he said he believed that home is still safest for them but they are advising they can go out for exercise where they are protected.

The latest developments come as the Irish Cancer Society said it is concerned about a drop in suspected cancer cases being referred for investigation by GPs.

New figures from the HSE showed the number of suspected cancer cases being referred for investigation by GPs through the HealthLink referral system has dropped by more than half.

Advice

Chief executive Averil Power said: "This information from the HSE is extremely worrying. It is crucial that people continue to seek medical advice if they are concerned about their health.

"When it comes to cancer, early detection is key and can be the difference between life or death in some cases.

"We understand the public are concerned but anyone who is concerned about a suspected sign or symptom of cancer should contact their GP immediately.

"As the Taoiseach said yesterday in the Dail, cancer has not gone away, and he quoted one GP he had spoken to who said he had not encountered anyone in his practise with potential cancer symptoms in a month.

"Cancer will not wait for the coronavirus pandemic to pass and it is so important that anyone who needs medical attention seeks it."