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corona get better ‘Good summer’ on way – if we can stick with restrictions for another two to three months

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Prof Philip Nolan warned about an increase in cases. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Prof Philip Nolan warned about an increase in cases. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Prof Philip Nolan warned about an increase in cases. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

People were last night promised a “good summer” – but warned they have to “pull back from the brink” and stick with Covid-19 restrictions for the next two to three months.

Cases of the virus have risen in recent days, sparking fresh alarm among public health officials.

Professor Philip Nolan told last night’s Covid-19 briefing that the increase could be the “beginning of something”.

He said: “We are sailing very close to the wind. A gust of wind in the wrong direction and we are in real trouble.”

He was speaking as 10 more Covid-19 deaths were reported, as well as 592 new cases.

There is evidence that people are moving about more and the numbers at work have risen from 50pc to 60pc.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said vaccines needed to cover more at-risk groups. He added that, if people “stick with it” over the next two to three months, there is the promise of a “good summer” and brighter days ahead, barring the unexpected.

The over-70s will not be fully vaccinated until mid-May and the vaccine also has to be administered to around 150,000 people with underlying conditions at high risk from Covid-19.

The daily case numbers, although far lower than at the January peak, are still high. In fact, they are two times higher than when the country came out of lockdown in early December and 50 times higher than last June.

The first vaccine bonus was announced last night as the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) gave the green light to easing restrictions on nursing home visits.

Prof Martin Cormican, the HSE’s infectious diseases lead, said nursing home residents could have two visits a week on compassionate grounds, from March 22. The visits will be permitted two weeks after full vaccination, where 80pc of the residents and staff in the home have been vaccinated.

“There is no requirement to limit visits to less than one hour. Nursing home residents have been particularly impacted by the severity of Covid-19 restrictions,” he said.

He said there would be a review next month, with the aim to relax the restrictions further. He said nursing homes that do not feel ready to implement the new guidelines need to give good reasons for the decision and communicate it clearly to residents and their relatives.

Meanwhile, there has been a rise in the number of variants of the virus detected.

The South African variant has now been detected in 19 people found to be positive for the virus, a rise of four.

The Brazilian P1 variant has been identified in six cases. There have been 11 cases of the P2 Brazilian variant, which is of less concern.

Other variants are under investigation, including seven cases of the B1525 variant which was found in Nigeria, as well as five cases of the New York variant B1526.

The briefing also heard that there have been six outbreaks of the virus in schools over the past week, involving 10 cases.

There is concern that, as more schoolchildren return to the classroom next week, the movement of people it generates could lead to another rise in infection.

To date, most cases of the virus detected in schools have been picked up outside.

Dr Glynn asked people who could work from home to do so and he appealed to employers to facilitate this.

The R number, which indicates the average number an infected person can pass on the virus to, is now at 0.6-1.0.

Asked about the freedoms vaccination would bring, Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said they were also dependent on a fall in the levels of virus in the community. Asked about grandparents meeting grandchildren, she said once grandparents were protected with two doses and cases of the virus were brought down, they could get together.

The easing of restrictions on nursing home visits was welcomed last night by Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland. Nursing home residents, families and staff have had the toughest of years and this makes a psychological difference to many, he said.

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