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Risk of tragedy if restrictions eased too soon, warns expert

No 'normal' until Covid-19 cases are at zero, says Dr Scally

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Crowds enjoying the warm weather at Seapoint in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Crowds enjoying the warm weather at Seapoint in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Crowds enjoying the warm weather at Seapoint in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Ireland could risk "tragedy" with a resurgence of Covid-19 if the nation rushes to lift itself out of lockdown, Dr Gabriel Scally has warned.

Dr Scally, author of the Scally report on the CervicalCheck scandal and a member of the UK's independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said while he understood the necessity of getting Ireland back to work and school, there should be no return to normal life before Covid-19 figures "are down to zero cases".

Two more deaths from the virus were announced last night, a marked reduction on figures seen in recent weeks.

However, there were 66 newly confirmed cases. Of these, 39pc were infected in the community and 58pc were a close contact of an infected person.

There have now been 1,652 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland and 24,990 confirmed infections.

Some 3,283 (13pc) of people infected with the virus have been hospitalised. Of those hospitalised, 408 have been admitted to intensive care units (ICUs).

Resurgence

There was a fall in the number of people in ICU being treated for the virus.

According to figures from the HSE, as of 8pm on Saturday there were 36 people with coronavirus in ICU, down from 42 a day earlier.

Of the 36 patients in ICU, 23 of them are in Dublin hospitals. The current 5km limit on travel is expected to be replaced by a new 20km limit from June 8.

However, the Government is now considering if this could be allowed to expire on June 29 - three weeks earlier than the original date of July 20 as envisaged under the roadmap for exiting the lockdown.

Senior Government figures are positive about the direction Ireland's recovery is taking, but moves to permit more travel from home will be guided by data, including hospital and ICU admissions.

However, Dr Scally said: "It would be a tragedy having gone through everything that we've gone through, losing relatives and friends and the hardship of people losing jobs and businesses having real difficulties, if it was to flare up all over again.

"We have to be very thankful that it's now under control in the Republic of Ireland and that we can start relaxing, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"We need to get this right and a rush to make up all those weeks that we've been bottled up could lead us in the wrong direction and it could lead to a resurgence.

"My heart goes out to all of the people who've lost relatives, friends during the course of this horrible episode.

"We don't want any more of those and getting back to announcing death tolls in the hundreds, or in the UK, a thousand, or more a day."

He said hastening a return to normality could "create even more mayhem for all of us".

He praised the Irish Government's roadmap to opening up the economy, but said there was also an alternative arrangement that could allow Ireland to kill the virus off by "finding every case, tracking it down and eliminating it".

An all-Ireland approach could lead to the country being able to "relax everything, providing we kept the travel restrictions coming in and out of the island".

He added: "And we wouldn't need any lockdown or any restrictions at all, but that depends on us getting the virus down to zero cases.

"It can be done, other countries have done it and we should be trying to do it on this island. Why can't we be like New Zealand?"

He also responded publicly to an email sent by Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary to Health Minister Simon Harris, which Mr O'Leary had copied the doctor into.

"I'd rather he [Mr O'Leary] got on with refunding all the people all the money he owes them from the flights he's cancelled and gets on with running the airline and leaves public health to the public health authorities, which are the departments of health," he said.

Dr Scally said risks to travel remained, despite Mr O'Leary's calls for Mr Harris to scrap the 14-day self-isolation rule for passengers travelling to Ireland.

"I can see how it could be possible to make a journey relatively safe, but it's all the other stuff that goes with it - the travel to the airport, the mixing in the airport at the other end and the countries people are coming from and to.

"There certainly is a great opportunity to increase air travel in countries who are in a similar state of progress with the virus.

"So Greece has started that, some of the Balkan countries have relaxed their rules, but only with countries with where the virus is under control.

"Greece has regarded the UK and Ireland as one territory on this and is not minded to have any sort of relaxed regime for people coming from Ireland or Britain."