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'No magic figure' to hit before curbs ease - Leo

'We'll beat virus by doing right thing by each other'

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

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

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

It comes after the Department of Health confirmed last night that there had been 25 more deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland. This brings the death toll in the Republic to 288.

It was also confirmed 480 new cases of coronavirus have been identified, bringing the total number of cases to 7,054.

However, there was confusion last night after chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the total number of confirmed cases, was 8,089.

Backlog

The larger number was a result of the number of test results being returned from a lab in Germany which has been used to clear a backlog.

Dr Holohan stressed these cases were "historical" and did not impact on the current growth rate of the disease.

The current set of restrictions have been extended in their 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, Mr Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris said more work needed to be done and the public should continue to stay at home.

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

Speaking at Government Buildings he said: "There's no magic figure, if you like, 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."

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".

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

Mr Varadkar also 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," he said.

Dr Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) did consider further restrictions 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 in testing and test results, Dr Holohan and health officials admitted they did not have specific figures for this. He said it was the intention of the HSE to clear a backlog for test results within days via the use of the German lab and have a testing regime with a 48-hour or quicker turnaround time "as quickly as possible".

The HSE and the National Virus Reference Laboratory UCD (NVRL) confirmed yesterday they had entered an agreement with Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) for the supply of reagents that will enable the NVRL to significantly ramp up testing.

The NVRL's Dr Cillian De Gascun, who chairs the Government's expert group on Covid-19, said: "GMI's rapid response in producing reagents... will be pivotal in our understanding of the outbreak and help in deciding when we can begin to lift current movement restrictions."