A further 93 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the State on Thursday as public health officials ruled out a reopening of additional pubs next week.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) considered the reopening of pubs that do not serve food at a meeting on Thursday. Previously, the earliest pubs would be permitted to reopen was Monday, August 31st.
Following the meeting, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said “we didn’t feel that we could recommend today that it would be appropriate for pubs to reopen next week.”
The matter would be considered again in two weeks time, along with other recent restrictions on indoor gatherings to six people, and 15 outdoors.
Dr Glynn also said current restrictions in place for Co Kildare would not be lifted early due to continuing high numbers of coronavirus cases in the county.
Dr Glynn said the situation in the county had been “improving and stabilising,” after large increases in cases linked to clusters in several food processing plants.
In the past 14 days there has been 329 Covid-19 cases in Kildare, and while the rate of the virus’ spread was slowing, it remains the highest in the State, he said.
“In just over the last seven days Kildare has had more cases per population than any other county in the country. The situation is improving and we’re confident everything is going in the right direction, but if we release the measures too early we could see a rebound in the opposite direction,” Dr Glynn said.
No further deaths from Covid-19 were reported by NPHET, leaving the death toll at 1,777. The total number of cases in the country now stands at 28,453.
Dublin has the highest number of new cases at 34 while there are seven in Kildare, six each in Donegal and Laois, five each in Limerick and Waterford with the remaining 30 cases spread over Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Tipperary, Westmeath and Wicklow.
The majority of the cases, 73, are associated with outbreaks or close contacts of a confirmed case while 12 were identified as community transmission.
Men account for 52 of the new cases and women account for 41 while 70 per cent of the total number of new cases are under the age of 45.
Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said: “The R-number is now between 1 and 1.2. While this is an improvement on what we have seen recently, it is still not where we want to be. We are still seeing growing transmission of the disease and we need to bring the R-number back below 1 if we are to effectively slow the spread of Covid-19 and suppress its transmission.”
The briefing heard 392 outbreaks of the virus were currently being investigated by public health teams. Of those 252 are related to social gatherings in private houses. There were also outbreaks in workplaces, in other social settings and retail outlets.
One outbreak in a pub/restaurant involved 26 cases and that subsequently led to 10 additional cases in another workplace.
Another restaurant had 19 cases and it involved staff, customers and was associated with a family outbreak separately.
Another involved six cases in a sports club and there was then transmission at an associated social gathering resulting in 19 further cases.
There was an outbreak too in a retail outlet that involved seven cases in staff some of whom worked while symptomatic.
In Northern Ireland, one more person with coronavirus has died, bringing the total number of fatalities recorded by the North’s department of health to 560.
A total of 69 new cases of Covid-19 have been identified in the North in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland since the pandemic began to 6,964.
Speaking to reporters in Limerick, Mr Martin said NPHET “have given us advice which we have adopted and we’ve implemented, and obviously the way the numbers are going, NPHET are constantly wary of that [lockdown] prospect, and the reason we adopted the measures last week was to make sure we don’t get to that situation, but it’s fluid.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday the State was at a “tipping point”, and that the coronavirus pandemic is “close to having us lock down the country again”.
Asked about Mr Donnelly’s comments, the Taoiseach said: “The big story this week is the reopening of our schools – a million people between students and teachers coming back into our schools.
“We have been visiting schools to see the extraordinary work of teachers, SNAs, and school managements, really good to see the contribution they have made to enabling children return to school.
“Our strategy is to live with Covid-19, to protect jobs, particularly manufacturing facilities like the one we visited this morning – to get our schools open again; and to resume our health services. And, by taking the measures we have taken, we want to try and avoid the lockdown, but the danger and challenge is always there.”
Mr Martin was speaking in Limerick at the announcement of 400 jobs at US pharmaceutical firm Regeneron.
Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19, Mr Donnelly said that if public health advice is followed, schools and businesses can remain open and the virus can be suppressed.
However, he said: “the reality is we are dealing with a virus that is close to having us lock down the country again. The public health advice is that we are at a tipping point and we are doing everything we can to suppress this virus to stop a second lockdown”.
He said that if a second lockdown were to happen, healthcare services will be “severely curtailed”. Currently, the strategy is to use “targeted measures to suppress the virus while keeping as much of our society and our economy open as possible”. He argued that the experiences of Kildare, Laois, and Offaly showed that suppressing the virus through this strategy was possible.
He warned, however: “If there is a second wave the Government will have to consider the blunt instrument which we know works, that is, a lockdown. We are doing everything we can to avoid that.”