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Turning point is reached as no virus deaths in a day, but calls for cut in distancing

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

Colin Keegan

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan

A potential turning point has been reached in the fight against Covid-19 as no new deaths were reported for the first time since March.

The breakthrough looks set to heighten the campaign to reduce the two-metre rule on physical distancing.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the welcome news of no daily fatalities as a "significant milestone".

"First day with no reported Covid-19 deaths since March 21. This is a day of hope. We will prevail," he said.

The news came as Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan confirmed he is to meet Cabinet ministers this week as pressure grows to reduce the two-metre rule to one metre in a bid to help the hospitality trade and business.

Commenting on the significance of yesterday's news, he said: "It is consistent with our overall pattern of reduction. There is always a weekend effect in terms of reporting.

"There were four deaths last Monday and the following day there was a jump, but it is part of the downward trend."

Permission

Referring to the calls to speed up the lockdown exit road map, he said it was not a case of different sectors having to seek a form of "planning permission" from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

He warned that the easing of restrictions will lead to more cases and clusters.

So far, 1,606 people have died from the virus. Fifty-nine newly-diagnosed cases of infection were reported yesterday, bringing the total so far to 24,593.

Asked about the two-metre physical-distancing rule, which restaurants, pubs and businesses want cut, he said all measures in the advice from Nphet is "under constant review".

"It is something we will look at with other measures," he said.

"It's important to say that it is not a magic thing on its own. It is not to say that everything outside of two metres is safe and anything less than two metres is less safe."

If the distance between two people is less than a metre, the risk of the spread of infection is greater than if they are two metres apart, he added.

"We think for the moment that two metres is a reasonable compromise, given where we are," he said.

He understood why businesses are concerned, but it was important to look on it as part of the whole-package public health advice.

The stages set out in the roadmap are not rigid, but the belief was that it was the right way to proceed as long as the progress in reducing the spread of the disease continued apace.

If the evidence has changed and the assessment of the disease has altered to a point where guidance can be amended, it will be.

Dr Holohan was questioned about allowing sixth-class children to return to school before the end of the year to mark "the rite of passage".

Nphet in its advice to the Government last week pointed to the hope that measures could be introduced to ease the challenges faced by children.

Asked about the ongoing calls from various industries to fast-forward the road map, Dr Holohan said: "I don't want this to be seen as a process through which people go almost as if they're applying for planning permission and they have to make an application and await adjudication from here.

"We give broad public health advice, it's reasonably easy to understand. The challenge is for other sectors to find a way of internalising that."

Difficulties

Meanwhile, Alone, the organisation that supports older people, is calling on the incoming government to implement long-term supports for seniors who have been impacted financially by Covid-19.

It has seen an increase in calls from older people who are experiencing financial difficulties and issues with pensions, housing and security of tenure as the pandemic continues.

These difficulties cause anxiety, which in turn have a detrimental effect on mental health.

Since it launched in March, Alone's Services for older people has received 21,347 calls.