Restrictions set to extend after April 12
The Government is set to extend many, if not all, of the current restrictions on public movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic beyond April 12 - but could tweak some measures, including allowing more people to attend the funerals of loved ones.
Senior Government sources said that any decisions would be taken on the advice of officials in the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and cautioned that the current effective lockdown across the State could be extended in its entirety.
"We won't know until the middle of next week," a source said.
"It could be that they will go on for another period of time but we will tell people how long that will be and when we'll be able to relax them or they might be modified."
The possibility of increasing the number of people allowed to attend funerals of loved ones has been raised in Government circles.
At present, the public health advice is that immediate family members can attend funerals up to a maximum of 10 people. This applies to all funerals, including those arising as a result of Covid-19.
"The restrictions on funerals are very upsetting. But we won't be making these decisions politically-based," the source said.
The NPHET will meet toward the end of next week to determine whether restrictions should remain in place beyond Easter Sunday, the current deadline set by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he announced the stay-at-home measures a week ago.
Meanwhile, opposition party leaders were told this week that the health officials are still aiming to hit a target of carrying out 15,000 tests a day by April 20.
However, many politicians have cast doubt on this target given the difficulties encountered in recent weeks with a shortage of testing kits and, in recent days, a shortage of reagent chemicals that are part of the process of testing swabs.
The Government claims that around 3,000 tests a day are being ordered, but only around 1,500 tests a day are being analysed in labs.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said last night that the capacity of testing centres is able to "meet the demand coming through" since the criteria for testing was changed last month, where patients must exhibit at least two symptoms of the disease.
However, a significant number of tests have been sent to German laboratories for analysis in recent days, it emerged yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Government will consider issuing new guidance to the public to wear face masks if advised to do so.
The growing international evidence that wearing face masks can impact on the spread of the disease was raised by opposition leaders at a meeting with the Government.
Current HSE guidance is that it is not effective for those who do not have the disease to wear a mask.
However, a recent US study suggests that wearing masks may reduce the risk of infection as coughs can reach six metres and sneezes up to eight metres.
The European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation are due to bring out new papers on the issue, which will be assessed by the NPHET.
"We always evaluate any evidence that comes out," a Government source said.
"There is a school of thought in favour of it."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Any recommendations made by the NPHET will be made public as soon as possible."
Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: "Some doctors I have spoken with on this issue believe that part of the reason for some Asian countries to mandate wearing masks is as much about sending a strong visual message to everyone that we're in the middle of a pandemic.
"It reinforces the messages that we must all be extremely careful and considerate in our interactions."
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has called on the HSE to issue new guidance to all health staff that the use of masks be adopted.