Vaccine needed to end social distancing: Irish health minister

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Social distancing rules adopted to slow the spread of coronavirus by keeping people two metres apart will remain largely in place until an effective treatment or vaccine is available, Ireland’s health minister said on Monday.

More than a dozen large global drugmakers have announced plans in recent months to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, although few if any are likely to reach patients in time to stem the current outbreak.

Like many countries, Ireland has responded with a virtual lockdown. The government extended its stay-at-home restrictions on Friday until May 5, when it hopes to have controlled the spread enough to start unwinding the measures.

“There isn’t going to be a magic point at the start of May where life as we knew before the coronavirus can resume,” Simon Harris told a news conference as confirmed cases in the country rose above 10,000, with 365 deaths.

“Being truthful, social distancing is going to remain a very big part of life, not just in Ireland, but the world over, until we get to a vaccine or an effective treatment.”

Ireland reported 527 new cases on Monday from samples tested in Irish laboratories, and a further 465 that mostly related to samples taken in March that were sent to a German laboratory for assessment after Ireland ran into capacity constraints.

The testing backlog has been reduced from a high point of around 35,000 people waiting for results to some 11,000, Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid said earlier on Monday. Some 72,000 tests have been completed to date, among the highest rate in Europe, the health department has said.

The 31 new deaths on Monday were broadly similar to the numbers reported each day over the last week. Of the 365 deaths, 167 were nursing home residents, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Jan Harvey