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One-metre rule for distancing too risky, warn health experts

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Crowds enjoy the good weather at North Bull Wall in Dollymount, Dublin, yesterday

Crowds enjoy the good weather at North Bull Wall in Dollymount, Dublin, yesterday

Crowds enjoy the good weather at North Bull Wall in Dollymount, Dublin, yesterday

Public health experts have shot down calls to reduce the two-metre social-distancing rule and warned it could lead to a fourfold increase in the transmission of coronavirus.

Senior health experts intervened amid growing political pressure to reduce the social-distancing restriction to one metre.

Yesterday, Fianna Fail frontbench TD Darragh O'Brien insisted the two-metre distance should be halved.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly called for an audit on the impact on the restriction to one metre in the health service.

However, infectious disease specialist Prof Sam McConkey warned that reducing the distance could see the spread of the virus increase fourfold and could lead to the reopening of schools and airports being delayed.

Public health expert and epidemiologist Dr Gabriel Scally said the two-metre rule was not the most important issue facing the Government and the focus should remain on reducing the number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Mr Scally's comments came as new HSE figures showed four people died from the virus yesterday and there were 57 new cases of infection.

Mr Scally said he would "err on the side of caution" over the two-metre rule and said "the falling numbers for cases and the decreasing deaths are the important things".

"Once that goes down social distancing becomes less important because the virus will have been suppressed and if the virus is suppressed social distancing of one metres or two metres becomes an irrelevant discussion," he added.

Droplets

Speaking on Newstalk, Mr McConkey said one-metre social distancing could result in "up to four times more transmission" because there would be a higher concentration in droplets which would allow the virus to spread.

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Connla Fallon (6) collecting a Trocaire box from his grandmother Margo Rice while
observing social distancing. Trócaire has warned its Lenten Appeal is down 60pc and asked people to donate online

Connla Fallon (6) collecting a Trocaire box from his grandmother Margo Rice while observing social distancing. Trócaire has warned its Lenten Appeal is down 60pc and asked people to donate online

Connla Fallon (6) collecting a Trocaire box from his grandmother Margo Rice while observing social distancing. Trócaire has warned its Lenten Appeal is down 60pc and asked people to donate online

The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry insisted there would be no immediate change to the two-metre rule as it had helped Ireland "not only bend that curve" but reduce the infection rate to 0.5.

He recognised the impact on HSE services and businesses but confirmed the measure would stay in place for the foreseeable future due to concerns regarding droplet spread of infection through the air.

Director general of the HSE Paul Reid said the rule had had "significant implications" for the health service but said he would be guided by the public health advice.

"One metre would certainly give us extra capacity in terms of managing outpatient and emergency departments, or generally managing our services, but we will be led by what the current guidance is from the Government through Nphet," he said.

Labour's Mr Kelly said the Government had "sown confusion" over the two-metre rule.

He said Health Minister Simon Harris should examine whether the restriction could be eased.

"If the public health advice allows for it, and we followed the WHO [World Health Organisation, which is recommending one metre], it would make life much easier for society and businesses, like they have now done in France and other EU countries," he said.

On Twitter, Fianna Fail housing spokesperson Mr O'Brien said: "Changing to one [metre] would be a game-changer for thousands of businesses who are planning to reopen.

"If it's good enough for WHO, it should be good enough for Ireland [in my opinion]."

Meanwhile, new smartphone tracking figures show that traffic has almost doubled in Ireland over the past two weeks, with big increases in outdoor activity.

The figures, from Apple and Google, collected anonymously from the population's smartphones, suggest that people are relaxing their behaviour with regard to where they go and the amount of time spent outdoors.

Apple's figures indicate that driving activity is back to 58pc of what it was before the pandemic restrictions, up from just 34pc in the first week of May.

The figures also suggest that time spent out walking has risen from 26pc of what it was to 38pc.

Google's data shows that people began spending significantly more time in retail and recreational facilities, transit stations and workplaces before the most recent easing of restrictions.