The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has warned of worrying signs of “slippage” among the public that could have an impact on the spread of Covid-19.
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, has called on people not to slip in their behaviour and to “hold on” for a few more weeks to keep the coronavirus suppressed.
“We’ve seen this before, we see the level of slippage. We get tired, we get lonely, mix a little bit more,” Prof Nolan told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
The plea to the public, if they were slipping, was to “pull back” and help keep the virus suppressed, he said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few more weeks.”
Prof Nolan said the impact of the disease remained high, and that the situation was precarious and at a delicate point. “This is the time to stay home, this is not the time for mixing households or going back to the workplace unless it is essential work.”
There was a need to stick with the vaccination programme, Prof Nolan said, adding the Government had the right set of parameters involving a range of metrics – lowering of the reproduction number, the status of the vaccination programme and the situation in hospitals. “We’re not there yet,” he said.
He noted the vast majority of citizens had made “extraordinary sacrifices” over 52 weeks and that people had had to manage grief on their own, but the worry was, he said, “if we rush” the virus would not be suppressed.
“In 10 weeks we will be in a different scenario. People needed to maintain their guard against infection and not squander the sacrifices that have been made.”
As more people were vaccinated, there would be more that people could do, but Prof Nolan warned that there would be some activities that would have to wait until there was population-wide protection.
Last night, the Nphet modelling expert warned Ireland could be “in real trouble” if a recent rise in Covid-19 cases continues.
After two months of declining numbers progress appears to have stalled, and the reproduction number may now be close to 1, Prof Nolan said on Thursday night as 592 cases and 10 deaths were reported.
He said there was “a little bit of concern this may be the beginning of something”.
“We are sailing very close to the wind. A gust of wind in the wrong direction and we’re in real trouble.”
The stubbornly high case numbers have been linked to the more transmissible B117 variant and greater mobility in the population.
A number of Ministers have said they believe the Cabinet will have to outline a clearer picture for the reopening of society when plans to ease restrictions are considered early in April.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said services such as hairdressers may not reopen until late April or May at the earliest, but that consideration would be given to easing the 5km travel limit and restrictions on meeting people outdoors.
However, significant restrictions are expected to remain until the second half of May at least.
Nursing home residents, one of the groups most affected by the pandemic, will be permitted to have two visits a week on compassionate grounds from March 22nd as residents benefit from the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
There was further criticism of vaccine-maker AstraZeneca on Thursday from the Government and the HSE over the reliability of its delivery schedule, but the approval of the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine for use in the EU was welcomed.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland had an advance agreement for 600,000 Johnson&Johnson doses for the second quarter of the year, with the first of these expected to arrive in late April.