By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland hopes to be in a position in two weeks to tweak or remove some of its new highly restrictive coronavirus-related measures if it can slow down the rate of admissions to intensive care units, Health Minister Simon Harris said.
Ireland’s prime minister ordered citizens on Friday to stay home until April 12 to help slow the spread, telling them they can only leave to shop for groceries, for brief individual physical exercise or to make absolutely essential family visits.
Ireland reported 14 deaths on Saturday, the most on a single day so far as total fatalities rose to 36. A further 294 cases brought the number of infections to 2,415, slightly down on the 302 new cases reported on Friday.
“Will we be in a position on April 12 where life in Ireland can return to normal? Absolutely not. Let’s be honest with each other, these are measures that we are going to need continue to work at,” Harris told national broadcaster RTE on Saturday.
“Do we hope to be in a position in two weeks’ time to say that we’ve made progress and some of the measures can be tweaked, removed, changed? Absolutely. “The measures that we put in place last night were so significant that they cannot be kept in place for too long. You cannot ask people to sustain this for a very long time.”
Seventy-one patients were in intensive care units (ICU) by Thursday, a near doubling in three days. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned on Friday that ICU units would be at capacity within a few days given the rate of the spread.
The government detailed on Saturday who could and could not go to work, giving a grace period until Monday for non-essential operations to wind down and for staff to work from home where they could. All construction bar healthcare-critical projects and critical road and utility infrastructure were shut down.
Police mounted a major nationwide operation, with officers on horseback patrolling parks to ensure people were not gathering outside their household units and traffic police stopping cars to check journeys beyond 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) were essential trips only.
With so much economic activity halted, the head of the body representing Irish banks said lenders were processing more than 28,000 three-month mortgage breaks for customers whose incomes have been cut by the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Jason Neely and Giles Elgood)