McGrath: Easing of outdoor restrictions needs to be 'phased and gradual'


Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

18.47 6 Apr 2021


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A senior government minister has cautioned against reading too much into a single set of data in relation to the spread of COVID-19.

He says the advice to Government is to ease restrictions on a 'phased and gradual' basis.

It's after a report suggesting just 0.1% of Ireland’s COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic have been linked to outdoor transmission.

The HPSC figures, published by The Irish Times, indicated that 262 recorded cases in the State were transmitted through the likes of outdoor sports or construction sites.

The HPSC has noted it cannot determine where transmission took place for definite, but the figures have led to calls from the restaurant sector for the resumption of outdoor dining.

Michael McGrath - Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform - told The Hard Shoulder there's a need for caution when it comes to reading the data.

He said: “We need to be careful about placing too much reliance on one set of data. The HPSC data some months ago would have also indicated a very, very low number of outbreaks in hospitality for example.

“The fact is there is a high degree of community transmission that is untraced.

"The figures have shown… that around 20% [of the cases are] in the community, and they can’t identify the origin of that.”

He pointed to an 'informed reading' of the data from the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry.

Dr Henry told RTÉ the numbers are 'misleading' as they only cover recorded outbreaks and don't include some of the outdoor settings where people might have gotten the disease.

Minister McGrath said the figures in question do, however, reflect the fact it is much safer for people to meet up outdoors than indoors.

He said: "That’s why the focus of the reopening programme is on outdoor activity and a return to outdoor sports and training for our kids later in the month.

“Would we like it to be sooner? Of course we would… I’m a parent as well and would love to see the kids back out playing as soon as possible. But the advice we have received is to do it in a phased and gradual way."

People will be allowed to meet one other household outdoors from April 12th, followed by a further easing of restrictions on some outdoor activities throughout April.

In terms of widescale retrospective contact tracing of cases - which has only gotten underway in Ireland in the last week - Minister McGrath said tracing every single case is ‘not realistic’ in countries with a high level of community transmission.

He insisted that “massive resources” have been put into testing and tracing here, and it would be "simplistic" to suggest detailed, retrospective contact tracing could have avoided waves two and three.

Main image: File photo of Michael McGrath. Picture by: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

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