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'Stop breaking rules' warning - or lockdown may not be eased

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A man wearing a face mask cycles past a mural in Dublin yesterday

A man wearing a face mask cycles past a mural in Dublin yesterday

PA

A man wearing a face mask cycles past a mural in Dublin yesterday

The easing of lockdown measures to combat coronavirus on May 5 may be at risk as more people flout public health rules to limit their movements.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and Health Minister Simon Harris warned yesterday that "if today was May 5 there would be no changes".

Evidence was released showing increased traffic and more people out and about.

"We are seeing a bit of slippage in things like traffic, movement and walking," Dr Holohan said.

It comes as 28 more people died of the virus and a record 936 new cases were confirmed, many of them in nursing homes.

Dr Holohan said there is hard evidence to support anecdotal reports that a sense of complacency has crept into people's behaviour.

He referred to reports from the Irish National Seismic Network showing a rise in vehicle traffic in recent days and separate statistics revealing people have been going out more since Easter Monday.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET epidemiological modelling advisory group, said overall the growth in coronavirus has been stabilised or suppressed - with the number of deaths relatively stable since early April.

The number of people admitted to hospital peaked at 90 per day two weeks ago and the figure has been falling since. Admissions to intensive care are also down.

Referring to nursing homes and other community settings, Prof Nolan said the virus took time to get into these facilities.

He echoed warnings about the dangers of complacency, adding that, although the "numbers for the virus are going in the right direction, they are still not where we would like them to be".

The latest laboratory confirmed deaths bring the toll to 794.

Clusters

Dr Holohan said there were 319 clusters of the virus in community settings, including 191 in nursing homes.

So far 2,960 cases of the virus have been among people in community settings, with nursing homes accounting for 2,231.

The number of deaths among nursing home residents is now at 361, with 103 people dying in a hospital.

Around two-thirds of people here who became infected with the virus have recovered.

In the Dail, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Finance, Health and Education Ministers faced a grilling on the response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Taoiseach said efforts are being made to expand testing to 100,000 a week. A real-time testing regime is needed if there is to be any form of exit from lockdown.

Mr Varadkar said it will be a significant increase in testing and it may not be possible "but we will pull out all the stops to make it happen".

He warned that stricter social distancing may have to be reintroduced as happened in Japan in recent days.

"We must do everything we can to avoid post peak wave or a deadly second wave" which he said happened during the H1N1 and Spanish Flu pandemics.

He added that when it's over "we will awaken our society and our economy".

Meanwhile, Europe's disease watchdog warned last night that the pandemic is posing an unprecedented threat.

The European Centre for Disease Control said there is now "significant interest in phasing out restrictive measures, as they are highly disruptive to society".

"However, lifting measures too quickly, without appropriate monitoring and health systems capacity in place, may cause sudden resurgence of sustained community transmission," it added.

The staffing crisis in some private nursing homes is escalating as the HSE's testing blitz is forcing more workers to take sick leave.

The surge in confirmed cases is being linked to increased testing within residential facilities.

But Nursing Homes Ireland warned that the promised redeployment of workers from the HSE to make up for staff shortfalls in homes is not materialising.

Absent

Its chief executive, Tadhg Daly, said a "huge crisis is now emerging and is likely to exacerbate arising from mass testing for Covid-19 being undertaken in nursing homes".

Mr Daly said a snapshot survey of private and voluntary nursing homes across the country revealed large numbers of nursing, healthcare and other staff were unavailable due to Covid-19.

102 homes reported 223 nurses being absent due to Covid-19. Four nursing homes said more than 10 nursing staff are off sick.

Speaking in the Dail, Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said there is a crisis, with seven out of 10 deaths from coronavirus now in community care homes including nursing homes.

He said there is a "desperate shortage of staff and personal protective equipment [PPE]".

One nurse told him: "There is Covid in the air, there is Covid on the walls, there is Covid on every door."

He said the staff member told him that the senior nurses in the home were either out sick with the virus or self-isolating.

Asked if there is a delay in deploying staff to nursing homes, Dr Colm Henry, of the HSE, said that various forms of help are being given to private nursing homes.

They had received around two million items of PPE along with advice, clinical and infection control supports.

He said there is an agreement to be finalised this week to provide 40,000 hours of work by homecare staff in private nursing homes.