Ireland has “almost zero” new cases of Covid-19 and all indicators of the disease are either stable or declining, three weeks into the easing of restrictions, public-health officials have said.
Vowing to “go as low as we possibly can” towards eliminating the disease, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he did not believe there were hidden clusters “out there”, separate from the small number of daily cases now being reported.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) at its meeting on Thursday considered a call by a group of scientists for travel controls and other tough measures to be introduced short-term with the aim of “crushing the curve”.
The group was satisfied additional measures were not needed, according to Dr Holohan.
“The absolutist notion of elimination [of the disease] from the island with no possibility of recurrence or re-emergence is an attractive-sounding strategy but is not practical or implementable,” Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish epidemiological modelling advisory group, said.
“We have almost zero cases occurring day by day. This is an effective strategy and integrates well with other countries in Europe with whom we want to increase our level of exchange and not decrease it.”
All indicators of the disease are stable or declining at present, Prof Nolan said.
The reproduction number, a measure of how many people a confirmed case goes on to infect, stands at between 0.4 and 0.8.
“The next two weeks are now critical in limiting transmission, keeping the R-number low and suppressing the virus,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of new cases per day has fallen to 14, from 50 the previous week.
With the situation stable in residential care facilities and other at-risk settings, private houses are the new front line of the battle against Covid-19, officials indicated.
They decided against changing existing recommendations on face coverings, though a communications campaign is to start next week encouraging the public to following the advice to use face coverings in indoor settings where social distancing is not possible.
“Perhaps what we think is consistent advice hasn’t been heard as a clear and consistent message,” Dr Holohan admitted, while restating NPHET’s opposition to the mandatory wearing of face masks.
The group will meet next Thursday to finalise advice to Government on the “rephasing” of the easing of restrictions. Its recommendations are expected to provide further clarity on a variety of issues, including a possible easing of the two-metre social-distancing rule, the reopening of hairdressers, rules around weddings and the reopening of the offshore islands.
Asked what would be done in the event of a resurgence of cases, Dr Holohan said the same “blend of measures” would not be used. “We don’t need to do exactly the same things in the same way.”