The Department of Health has confirmed two further deaths from Covid-19, bringing the death toll in Ireland to 1,748.

It has also confirmed 14 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 25,683.

The Acting Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health has said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met yesterday and will meet again tomorrow to review Ireland's ongoing response and preparedness to Covid-19. 

Dr Ronan Glynn said: "We are at a sensitive stage in the pandemic - this requires caution and collective effort to hold firm and keep the virus suppressed in the community. Continue to follow public health advice."

Meanwhile the Cabinet has decided that the reopening of pubs and nightclubs will be deferred to 10 August. 

It is meeting this evening to discuss the latest advice from NPHET on the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions from next Monday.

NPHET had expressed concern about the scheduled reopening of all pubs under Phase 4 due to a significant number of young people who have contracted the virus in recent weeks.

The wearing of face coverings is likely to be made compulsory in shops and other indoor settings, following the Cabinet meeting.

Rise in Covid-19 clusters in private households

The number of clusters or outbreaks of Covid-19 reported in private households increased by 96, in the week to last Sunday, according to the latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Most of these outbreaks were seen in the east of the country where 72 outbreaks were recorded.

In the northwest, 13 outbreaks were recorded.

There were a total of 1,217 clusters or outbreaks in private houses recorded up to last Sunday, 12 July, the report says.

It compares with a total of 1,121 outbreaks reported to the HPSC up to Sunday, 5 July.

Just three clusters for the same period were reported in nursing homes.

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospital remains stable, according to the latest figures from the Health Service Executive.

There are 13 confirmed cases in hospitals, plus 158 suspected cases. The number of confirmed cases has reduced by one in the last 24 hours.

Of the confirmed cases, ten patients are in intensive care, with five of these on ventilators.

The public adult hospital system has 44 critical care beds free.

Meanwhile, no new deaths with Covid-19 have been recorded in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

The total remains at 556. Another nine positive tests were recorded, bringing the overall total to 5,799. 

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Expert group calls for Government strategy to eliminate Covid-19

A group of experts in science and medicine from across Ireland has called for a strategy from Government to eliminate Covid-19 from the country.

In a statement, the group said the aim of a 'Zero Covid Island' is to reduce the incidence across the island of Ireland to zero, so that it is possible to safely open up as much of society and the economy as possible.

The group says the number of new Covid-19 cases is rising steadily across Ireland, especially in younger people, who are more likely to silently carry and transmit the virus.

It says the country is now facing the strong likelihood of an imminent second wave.

One of the measures suggested is a 'Green Zone strategy', with local relaxation of restrictions, wherever there is no community transmission, to allow return to near normal conditions in those areas.

The experts say the wearing of masks should be normalised and legally enforced, indoors in public spaces and outdoors in crowds.

Among the signatories are Professor Sam McConkey, RCSI, Professor Anthony Staines, DCU and Professor Gabriel Scally.

The 14 signatories include some experts from abroad.

They have called for safe travel bridges to other countries or jurisdictions that would have similar Zero-Covid strategies.

The group says that relaxing restrictions before Ireland gets to a zero-Covid island status risks a second wave, as seen in Israel, Serbia, Australia and Japan.

Prof Staines has said that a recent rise in the number of new cases of Covid-19 is a cause for concern.

He said that the 32 new cases yesterday was roughly the same as the number we had when "the country was originally locked down".

He said that while "nobody is proposing we do that again", the recent figures are "the start of the second wave" and he said that it is now "up to us as a country to bring this under control".

Prof Staines said the 'Zero Covid Island' strategy would be Ireland's exit strategy away from the pandemic, as at the moment he said there is "no clear plan".

He said we should be aiming to have zero cases.

"There are a number of things we can do to achieve that, to bring back normal life," he said.

Prof Staines said that this includes wearing masks, putting "substantially more effort into tracking, tracing and isolating", creating green zones in part of the country where there is no current transmission of the virus and having better processes to manage people who are travelling arriving here, including testing at airports.

The World Health Organization says data to date suggests 80% of Covid-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation.

Generally, you need to be 15 minutes or more in the vicinity of an infected person and within two metres of them, to be considered at-risk, or a close contact.

Additional reporting Fergal Bowers, Laura Hogan