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case surge Spike in Covid-19 infections could threaten plans to ease restrictions

There is increasing concern across the three coalition parties ahead of meetings on lifting coronavirus restrictions.

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People on a deserted Grafton St in Dublin under Level 5 restrictions. Photo: Gerry Mooney

People on a deserted Grafton St in Dublin under Level 5 restrictions. Photo: Gerry Mooney

People on a deserted Grafton St in Dublin under Level 5 restrictions. Photo: Gerry Mooney

A SURGE in Covid-19 cases could threaten any significant easing of restrictions next month.

There is increasing concern across the three coalition parties ahead of meetings on lifting coronavirus restrictions.

Senior Government sources raised concerns about allowing the construction industry to fully reopen next month and also cast doubt over the remaining years of secondary school students returning to classes if the numbers of new cases continue to rise.

There is an acceptance within the three Government parties that the 5km travel ban will be eased but non-essential inter-county journeys will still be prohibited.

More outdoor activities are expected to be permitted from April 5, but Government sources suggested people will not be allowed to gather in gardens to socialise.

It is more likely that small groups of people will be allowed to exercise or socialise outdoors in parks.

Allowing sports such as golf and tennis is still being considered as are plans to allow children to take part in non-contact sports training in small groups.

It comes as concern has emerged at the rise of Covid-19 in primary school children, with 50 to 60 cases a day.

School-related playdates and mixing of parents are also behind some of the increase in cases, public health officials warned last night.

They signalled a cautious approach to lifting restrictions.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) drew attention to the daily case count which was high at 520 again yesterday - there was also another Covid-related death reported.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: "It is not inevitable we will see a deterioration but it does require us to monitor it and proceed very cautiously."

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Dr Ronan Glynn.

Dr Ronan Glynn.

Dr Ronan Glynn.

He indicated the HSE may also target certain areas with higher levels of virus with special measures such as increased testing.

Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said it is quite clear there is some concern about a possible increase in cases in children under 12.

The briefing was told public health doctors are reporting transmission is happening in activities around school - rather than in the classroom.

Around 50 to 60 primary school children are testing positive for the virus a day but just one in 10 of these cases is traced back to the classroom.

This was limited and the vast majority of parents are following public health rules.

He would not be drawn on what Nphet will recommend to Government after it meets on Thursday.

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Professor Philip Nolan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Professor Philip Nolan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Professor Philip Nolan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Schools are a priority and remaining classes are due to return on April 12.

There are fears St Patrick's Day celebrations will lead to a spike.

The Government will rely heavily on Nphet's advice when it makes a decision on restrictions next week.

Research from consultancy firm EY and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) will also be considered before a decision is reached.

"Every time we have a meeting the ground seems to move on where we are at with restrictions," a senior Government source said.

A Cabinet minister said: "The case numbers are not good and mobility is up, people going to work is up and people gathering indoors is up.

"The case numbers are higher than they were when we moved into Level 5 restrictions before Christmas."

Prof Nolan said last night that around 59pc of transmissions are happening in households.

Outside of households, social gatherings and the workplace are responsible for around half of transmissions.

He insisted there is a much better insight now into the situations where the virus is spreading saying around 10pc of outbreaks are in private homes.

A further 10pc are in extended families with less than 10pc in the workplace.

Some 5pc are in complex settings in the community, 5pc in childcare, 5pc in schools and 2.5pc in religious services.

Meat-processing plants continue to be high risk and it is inevitable there will be outbreaks here until the majority of staff are vaccinated, experts warned.



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