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warning Outdoor dining and beer gardens may be off menu if May easing leads to spike - Dr Tony Holohan

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'We need to be ambitious but cautions,’ said CMO Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

'We need to be ambitious but cautions,’ said CMO Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

'We need to be ambitious but cautions,’ said CMO Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

The brakes could be put on plans to reopen hotels, B&Bs as well as outdoor dining and pub beer gardens from June if this month’s easing of lockdown rules sparks a virus upsurge.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan issued the warning yesterday, saying: “We need to be ambitious but also cautious. We will see how May goes.”

He said the exit plan from lockdown would consist of “two phases”, with May signalling whether the June chapter could proceed.

There is serious concern at the very high level of virus circulating in Donegal which, along with north Dublin and Kildare, have incidences of infection far beyond the national average.

Dr Holohan said there was evidence in Donegal of flagrant ignoring of pandemic rules. “The kind of things that even the dogs in the street in Donegal know should not be happening,” he added.

There is an urgent need for people in the county to “turn around” their figures. In addition, as restrictions ease in May, they are at increased risk.

Yesterday, the 14-day incidence in Donegal was 293.4 per 100,000 compared to the national incidence of 127.3 per 100,000.

Dr Holohan said the incidence in Milford and Letterkenny was particularly high.

He said some areas were in a more precarious position than others. “This is extremely concerning for public health doctors locally.”

There may even be a risk of Donegal not availing of further lockdown easing, although there is no signal yet that this will happen. There are now concerns Northern Ireland could suffer spillover infection from the south because of cross-border mixing.

Meanwhile, Dr Holohan said now was the right time to move on from lockdown on a national basis.

He said the loosening of restrictions over May and June was ambitious but cautious, with the focus on outdoor activities that presented a lower risk. He was speaking at another four deaths were reported yesterday, with 545 more cases of the virus.

There were 139 people with Covid-19 in hospital yesterday, including 44 in intensive care.

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Dr Holohan said the Covid-19 vaccines were very effective and we would be in a “good position” as more people become protected over May and June.

He also noted the vaccine bonus for those who have got one dose of the AstraZeneca jab or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines was allowing people to meet up with a limited number of others without having to wear face masks or physically distance.

Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said the outlook was “broadly positive” but said there would be careful surveillance of the virus over the next two weeks.

The R number, which needs to be under 1 to show the virus is shrinking, could rise to 1.25 by May 10 and 1.5 by June 7.

He said: “If all of us strictly adhere to the restrictions that remain in place and the broader public health advice, we think that the next few weeks are low to medium risk.”

So far, the number of close contacts per person has remained stable, indicating people are being cautious.

However, Prof Peter Lunn of the ESRI said there had been a marked decline in the level of self-reported compliance with Covid-19 restrictions between January and April.

People were “pushing the boundaries more as the year has gone on, but there is still a very high level of compliance”.

“While the large majority of the population continue to follow public health guidelines in most aspects, there has nevertheless been a clear fall-off in the levels of compliance reported in recent weeks.”

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