Health Minister ‘pleased and nervous’ Ireland is taking first steps out of lockdown

Heath Minister Simon Harris has said he is pleased and nervous as Ireland takes its first steps out of the 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.

Mr Harris told RTE radio: “I’m pleased that we have gotten to this point because of the incredible efforts of the Irish people to suppress this virus.

“I am nervous because the virus has not gone away and there is still people in our country getting very sick and dying every day.”

“”We all need to approach these next couple of weeks showing, I suppose, a collective sense of cop on.”

Day 1 of new phase, a few thoughts:– your effort has gotten us here– virus has not gone away– care & caution needed– keep following health advice– just because it’s open doesn’t mean we need to go– get these 3 weeks right & we can move further then

Keep safe. #Covid19

— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) May 18, 2020

“Just because somewhere is open, does not mean we have to go.

“Just because somewhere is open, it becomes even more important to social-distance, wash our hands and use cough etiquette and stay home except for the circumstances that are outlined.

“If we get these next three weeks right, we as a country will find a way to live safely alongside the virus.”

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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