| 18°C Dublin

‘Stay at home and finish the job’, public will be told by the experts

Close

Gardai at a checkpoint on the northbound carriageway of the N3 yesterday.

Gardai at a checkpoint on the northbound carriageway of the N3 yesterday.

Colin Keegan

Gardai at a checkpoint on the northbound carriageway of the N3 yesterday.

The national lockdown will not be lifted until a series of strict medical targets are reached, including a major suppression of the virus.

The significant shift in policy comes as the Government prepares to extend the nationwide quarantine until at least the end of the month.

The public will this afternoon be told to “stay at home” and “finish the job we’ve started” as the health service fights to contain the virus.

Yesterday, it was announced 28 more people had died, bringing the total deaths to 263.

This included 15 women and 13 men and the median age of those who died was 81.

Nineteen of the 28 had an underlying condition.

There were another 500 confirmed cases of the virus, meaning there are now 6,574 people who have been infected in Ireland.

Goals

The Government will outline the key goals needed to be reached before social distancing restrictions can be lifted.

Medical experts are insisting the growth rate of the virus is slashed before life can return to normal.

The growth rate has fallen from 33pc to 9pc this week – but this must drop even further.

Figures for the rate of transfer of the virus between individuals who have been infected to others must also fall before the Government considers lifting the lockdown.

At the beginning of the health crisis, each infected person was passing on the virus to four others.

This has dropped to close to one but the figures needs to drop to zero before restrictions can be lifted.

In addition to the medical targets, testing and hospital capacity issues must be addressed before a decision can be taken on the ending the lockdown.

Yesterday, Professor Philip Nolan, of Maynooth University, who is heading a team modelling how the virus is spreading, said social distancing would need to be in place for a “prolonged period of time”.

“We will be needing social distancing measures for a prolonged period of time in order to keep the disease suppressed for the length of time we need to,” Prof Nolan said

However, serious consideration is being given to relaxing travel and socialising rules next month if targets can be reached.

The restrictions will be eased in a phased basis rather than all at once.

Those involved in the decision-making say the restrictions may not be reduced in the same phases as they were introduced.

“Schools were one of the first things to close but may be among the first to reopen if deemed to be safe,” a senior Government source said.

The source also said people “need a sense of journey” toward the end of the crisis.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris will announce the extension of the restrictions, but are also expected to signal an end to the lockdown.

“Normal won’t return but a new normal will,” the source added.

The announcement will come after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) decides how long the social distancing rules should be extended by. The announcement of the new lockdown time scale is expected at around 4pm.

“Nphet will say, ‘Leave the ban in place for a couple of weeks’, but during those weeks the Government will highlight the need to hit the medical goals and then we can move towards a different terrain,” a Government source said.

Meanwhile, Prof Nolan said his modelling showed for every five cases detected, there are five cases not detected.

That is due to people having the virus but having no symptoms and the limitations of testing, he said, adding: “We model on the basis we will not detect every case.”

He referred to the scenario if no emergency measures were introduced.

“If none had been introduced within 20 days from now, we would have had a peak of 100,000 cases per day in the population,” he said.

“As of today, we would have been well overwhelmed.”

If we opted for limited measures such as closing schools, universities and basic restrictions, there would be a peak of infection 40 days from today – close on 60,000 cases.

“This is not a question of flattening the curve and pushing it into the future. It is a question of pushing the curve so flat that there is barely a peak detectable at all,” he added.

“We are looking at Austria and Denmark and see if they change their measures. That will allow us to see how much we can relax.”