Ireland moves to phase one of lockdown exit plan

Ireland has taken its first steps out of coronavirus lockdown.

Phase one of the country’s five phase exit plan was triggered on Monday.

Some retail outlets are reopening, outdoor work is resuming and sports like golf and tennis can be played again.

People will be able to meet in groups of four in outdoor locations as long as social distancing is observed.

Coronavirus – Fri May 15, 2020
Minister for Health Simon Harris has warned that Ireland is not out of the danger zone (Photocall Ireland/PA)

As the first major restrictions lift, people have been urged to wear face coverings when using busy public transport or in enclosed indoor areas such as shops.

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,543 on Sunday after 10 deaths were announced.

There were 64 new cases of the disease confirmed on Sunday – the lowest daily tally since mid-March.

The total of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ireland now stands at 24,112.

Ahead of the easing of lockdown, Health Minister Simon Harris stressed that Ireland was at a “crucial moment” in the fight against coronavirus, warning that the country remained in the “danger zone”.

Coronavirus – Sun May 17, 2020
Alex Zelenov works at the Haggardstown Garden centre in Dundalk ahead of reopening (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Harris said Ireland would end up in a “bad place” if people did not proceed with caution and tried to move ahead of what was allowed.

“We have all come too far and sacrificed too much to screw it up,” he said.

Mr Harris’s plea for caution came as HSE figures showed the virus’s prevalence continued on a downward trajectory.

There were 54 Covid-19 patients in ICU on Sunday, down by 67% from the peak in mid-April when around 160 people were receiving intensive care treatment.

The overall coronavirus hospital admission rate is down 66% from the peak.

Around 4,000 tests are currently being completed each day in Ireland. Of those, around 98% are testing negative. The 2% positivity rate is down from 25% in mid-April.

New test and tracing targets are now in operation as the lockdown starts to ease.

Ireland now has the capacity to test 100,000 people per week.

One new target is a three-day timeframe from the point of test referral to the completion of contact tracing, in 90% of positive cases.

The other is a two-day turnaround from the point of the test swab being taken to the notification of the result.

That means all people tested who return a negative result – currently 98% – will be informed of that outcome within 48 hours.

Automation of the notification process is being introduced to speed up the timelines.

Coronavirus – Sun May 17, 2020
HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said resuming non-Covid services will be an unpredictable process (Photocall Ireland/PA)

On Sunday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid outlined plans to gradually reintroduce healthcare services that had been halted or scaled back due to the coronavirus emergency.

But he said that would not be straightforward and would come with risks.

“People do want a level of predictability but we now have to deliver non-Covid services in a very unpredictable world, in a very unpredictable environment,” he said.

“Many people all across the health service are used to balancing risks every day as we have provided health services for many years.

“But this disease brings a very new risk, a very live risk, we have to deal with this risk every day.”

Those able return to work on Monday include construction workers, gardeners and people tending to allotments.

Garden centres, hardware stores, farmers’ markets, opticians and mechanics are also reopening.

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