Social distancing rules may be relaxed under new Covid roadmap

Social Distancing Rules May Be Relaxed Under New Covid Roadmap
Draft plans suggest a significant shift in how Covid-19 is managed in the State. Photo: PA Images.
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Social distancing rules could be relaxed as part of a new roadmap for easing Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland.

The Irish Times reports that draft plans suggest a significant shift in how Covid-19 is managed in the State, away from regulation and population-wide restrictions and towards a focus on public health advice and personal judgment.

However, any such changes would be dependent on strict targets being met, the draft plans drawn up by public health officials say.

Moving to this point would be dependent on the disease remaining under control and extremely high levels of vaccination, upwards of 85 to 90 per cent of the over-16s, outline plans discussed last month envisage.

The reproduction or R number, a measure of how many other people one Covid-19 case infects, would have to be close to 1, with key indicators showing the disease was being suppressed and that hospitals were not struggling.


Variants of greater transmissibility or vaccine resistance could also hold back progress.

Mask wearing

Among the options discussed by officials was removing the requirement for distancing and mask-wearing outside or in private indoor settings once these targets are reached.

Setting a physical distance of one metre in workplaces, indoor public spaces and healthcare settings until spring 2022 was also considered.

Masks for shops and public transport and in healthcare settings are set to be retained until at least next spring.

Over the longer term, the focus will shift to personal judgment, with individuals expected to rapidly self-isolate if they become symptomatic, while promotion of primary and booster vaccinations against Covid-19 and the flu will be central parts of the strategy.

People will be encouraged to wear masks and physically distance based on an individual risk assessment, and observe hand and respiratory etiquette.

‘Profound concern’

Despite the draft plans, there is “profound concern” among public health officials that deterioration in the disease in the coming weeks could make progress harder to achieve, especially if basic hygiene measures are abandoned while vaccination is still under way.

There is concern the current Delta variant wave of the virus could harm the chances of progressing.

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It is expected there could be around 400 people in hospital with the disease at the end of the month.

Paul Reid, the Health Service Executive (HSE)’s chief executive, said the impact on the healthcare system then becomes harder to manage.

However, he said there was no current need to scale back routine health services on a national level.

There were 248 people in hospital with the disease on Sunday morning, of whom 48 were in intensive care.

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