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Minister hails ‘positive signs’ as R0 number drops below one

Stephen Donnelly also said testing capacity has been increased and the 14-day coronavirus incidence rate is dropping.

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the R0 rate is now below one in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the R0 rate is now below one in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the R0 rate is now below one in Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has hailed “positive signs” in the battle against Covid-19, with the reproductive number dropping below one.

The R0 number – the rate at which the virus spreads – has fallen to between 0.7 and 0.9 as of Wednesday morning.

Mr Donnelly also said testing capacity has been increased, the 14-day incidence rate is dropping and the number of close contacts has halved.

But he said the high number of positive cases – 11,000 in the past fortnight – remains a “serious concern”.

He told the Oireachtas health committee: “This decision to move to Level 5 two weeks ago was made due to evidence showing the rapid increase in case numbers and the need to get the virus down to much lower levels.

“I’m glad to be able to share with colleagues that there are positive signs in recent days.

“The 14-day incidence as of yesterday was 228 cases per 100,000. This compares with 278 in the previous 14-day period.

“The rate is falling in 23 of the 26 counties.

“As of this morning, I’m happy to share we have new information which is the the R0, last week it was at one, and as of this morning it has now been recalculated to being at 0.7 and 0.9.

“Critically, the average number of close contacts has fallen as well from around six to now three. The testing positivity rate is also falling to 4.7%.”

The R0 number represents the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

Testing capacity as also been increased from 100,000 per week to 140,000 per week.

Mr Donnelly attributed some of the positive signs in Ireland’s battle against the virus to the decision to enter Level 5 restrictions.

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He said: “By moving early and comprehensively, Ireland is currently bucking the trend being seen in many other parts of Europe.

“The 14-day rate in France for example is 830. In Spain it is 567. And in the UK, it is 469.

“While our figures are hopeful, the number of positive cases remain a very serious concern.

“It’s worth reflecting that we have seen almost 11,000 new cases reported just in the last two weeks.

“We have got to continue to actively suppress this virus to the greatest extent possible.”

Mr Donnelly also said he is seeking the introduction of clinical guidelines where partners can join mothers giving birth in maternity wards.

This is not permitted under current rules , but Mr Donnelly is examining if exceptions can be made “particularly in the most heart-breaking and serious of cases”.

He said maternity services had taken quite a “hardcore” attitude to the issue but in doing so had kept mothers and babies safe.

He told the committee: “I’ve been made aware of some really traumatic situations where things have gone wrong during birth and the partners can’t get in then either, at a time when women really need the support.

They have taken quite a hardcore attitude to this, but at least in terms of keeping mums and babies safe they've done a really good jobStephen Donnelly, on restrictions in maternity units

“On the back of recommendations that have been made we asked the clinical leads to take a look and come up with clinical guidelines. They are doing that.

“There’s a balance to be struck whereby, whatever the local decisions that are made by our maternity services, I do need to back that up.

“If you look at the infection rates in the maternity services, relative to some other parts, they’re very, very low.

“They have taken quite a hardcore attitude to this, but at least in terms of keeping mums and babies safe they’ve done a really good job.

“Obviously we’ve got to find a balance on compassionate grounds.”

On Wednesday it was revealed that the Six Nations rugby championship in Spring 2021 has been earmarked for a potential return of fans to stadiums.

Junior Sports Minister Jack Chambers told an Oireachtas Committee that a trial run with a “limited number” of spectators could take place if the public health situation allows it.

He said: “What we’ve been looking at, for example, is for the Six Nations next year.

“The aim first would be trial this at the bigger stadia and see how that goes, that we could try it out.

“But for level five and our epidemiological position, there won’t be fans at games.”

Eight further deaths of people with Covid-19 and 444 new cases of the virus was reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday evening.

Of the latest cases, 158 were in Dublin, 48 in Cork, 36 in Galway, 28 in Limerick and 174 cases spread across 19 other counties.

As of 2pm, 310 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, of which 41 were in intensive care.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged the public to remain vigilant and follow public health advice.

“If you are a close contact of a confirmed case, you are asked to restrict your movements for 14 days and to attend for your two free Covid-19 tests, one on day 0 and one on day 7,” he said.

“By staying at home for this entire 14-day period, you are helping to stop the spread of this dangerous disease.”

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