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We're on course for Phase Two of lockdown exit as figures 'stable'

'Very low' level of disease in community sparks optimism

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A member of the public wears a face mask in Dublin city centre yesterday.

A member of the public wears a face mask in Dublin city centre yesterday.

A member of the public wears a face mask in Dublin city centre yesterday.

The country is on course to take the next step to easing lockdown as the latest trends show the coronavirus is being crushed.

The level of the disease in the community is now "very low" and all the indications are that overall control of the virus is now "astonishingly stable".

The optimistic verdict was delivered yesterday by Prof Philip Nolan, of Maynooth University, who is leading a team tracking the spread of the virus.

"Intensive care and hospital admissions as well as the number of deaths per day continue to decline. The number of cases per day remain stable," he said.

It will be next week before figures that reflect the impact of phase one of the exit lockdown measures on the spread will be clear, but even at this point there are no hints that would lead to worry.

The next phase of the road-map to exit lockdown is due to come into effect on June 8 when people may be able to travel 20km, more shops and can open and over-70s can visit supermarkets.

However, the ongoing toll of the virus was revealed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan who announced another nine deaths, bringing the total to 1,639.

A report from the Department of Health showed the death rate from the virus here is 6.5 per 100,000 population.

Ireland ranks eighth lowest in a table of 10 countries behind Belgium, France, UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain.

Dr Holohan said not all countries count confirmed and probable cases of the virus, as we do in the Republic.

Three-quarters of contacts of confirmed cases of people with Covid-19, who had tested positive themselves, showed no symptoms of the disease.

Symptoms

Earlier HSE chief executive Paul Reid said 73pc of such close contacts who have tested positive in the past week were asymptomatic.

Speaking at the HSE weekly briefing, he urged close contacts of confirmed cases to "come forward" for testing to further suppress the virus.

It came as HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said transmission of the virus has been taken "off the streets" and is mainly among households.

Mr Reid said 320 close contacts were tested in recent days, with 38 testing positive.

He said Ireland is one of the first countries in the world to test contacts of confirmed cases.

He added that, even if people do not feel they have symptoms, if they are invited to take a swab test they should do so.

"It is really important that people come forward and have the test. That is the best way to suppress the virus in the community," he said.

Dr Henry echoed this, saying: "Some of these people are actually pre-symptomatic. They just haven't developed their symptoms yet.

Experiment

"We know that people who become ill can shed the virus for 48 hours before they show symptoms themselves."

Meanwhile, new research shows half of a representative sample of the Irish public failed to recognise that someone experiencing flu-like symptoms needed to self-isolate, in an experiment conducted by the ESRI's behavioural research unit.

While almost 88pc understood someone with a fever or dry cough should self-isolate, this fell to 49pc for less common symptoms of Covid-19, such as a sore throat or aches and pains.

The study presented members of the public with different scenarios and asked them to judge whether the situation required self-isolation.

People were more likely to say that someone who was asymptomatic but had been in contact with a suspected case of Covid-19 should self-isolate, than someone with flu-like symptoms who had not had such contact.

The public health guidelines are clear that people with any flu-like symptoms self-isolate.

"Self-isolation will continue to be a vital part of the battle against Covid-19 in coming months, so we need people to understand when it is needed," said Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI behavioural research unit.

"Our study shows that while understanding in relation to primary symptoms is good, the message about less common symptoms has not yet been fully absorbed."

The study also tested a range of communication techniques designed by behavioural scientists to improve decisions about self-isolation.

It found that simple flow diagrams - called 'decision trees' - improved decision-making.

An online planning tool helped people to feel that they could cope with a period of self-isolation, especially younger people.