I welcome this opportunity to update this House once again on the Covid-19 disease and our national response to it. First and most important, I express my sympathy to the family and friends of those that have been lost to this disease since I was last in this House. The ways of mourning we hold dear have been taken away from us, compounding the deep sadness of the bereaved but I hope they know, and I hope it helps to know, we all as a country grieve with them.
It is now more than ten weeks since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in our country on 29 February. I know it seems much longer since the days when this virus did not dominate our lives and we were free to be together and to go where we pleased without the concerns that are now a routine part of daily life. I do not think that there is anyone among us who would not like to wake up one morning and find that all this is over and that we can go back to living the lives we led before Covid-19. Unfortunately, we have been given a different challenge and a harder road to follow. It is one where we have had to adapt our everyday lives and be ever vigilant about this disease so that, in simple terms, we do not give it to anyone and we do not get it from anyone.
Our reward for the sacrifices made and the hardships suffered in these weeks is that fewer people have this disease and fewer still have become ill from it than would have been the case if we as a country had done nothing. Our modelling work shows that 12,300 lives would have been lost by this day last week if the infection rate had continued as it was. As a country we can be proud of what we have achieved.
I can update the House on the reproduction rate, or R nought, that we have become familiar with. This is now in the range 0.4 to 0.6. This is a remarkably stable number which has below 1 for the past weeks. The number of hospitals admissions per day has fallen again from 20 a day when I was here last week to 15 a day. ICU admissions are also now averaging around one to two per day from four to six a day two weeks ago. We are moving to a new phase in our response, but we must we must be honest with people about the impacts this will have.
Every movement carries increased risk of exposure to this virus so while we want society and the economy to reopen, we must be conscious that the public health risk has not gone away. This virus has not disappeared.
We must now try to chart a path to a new normal. This will be a long road and, frankly, the final destination is unknown, but we do know that every step must be taken carefully because unlocking a lockdown is fraught with danger and risk. As we have seen elsewhere in the world, a small recurrence of the disease can cause the need for an immediate and serious response. Depending on what the public health advice may be, and the Government decision tomorrow, 18 May could well begin what will be our biggest national test to date.
Our best line of defence is the Irish people. Their individual behaviour, help and assistance will be our greatest chance of success. Staying at home, washing their hands, keeping their distance, painful and difficult as some of these measures are, are the best things people can do to protect themselves, their family and their community.
For now, we must continue to adapt our way of living to this disease so that we can hold on to the ground that has been so hard won. We have come this far and achieved this much because we followed the clear public health advice that we were given and faced the reality, as a people, of what the evidence was telling us. We did this despite the cost to all of us as individuals and the cost to our country.
Our reality today is that we have made great progress against this disease but it certainly has not gone away. We must continue to be ahead of it and to carefully watch its behaviour as we consider taking the first steps in reopening our society and our economy. We have published our roadmap and we have been clear from the outset that it is slow, gradual and careful. This is for no other reason than to make sure we have a safe pathway to regaining what is necessary and what is best in our lives and in our society.
Last week, we published our Return to Work Safely Protocol. It provides clear guidance to employers and workers on the measures that must be taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. The protocol was developed through the co-operation of the Health and Safety Authority, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the HSE and my Department. It is designed to be used by all workplaces to adapt their procedures and practices to provide protection against the threat of Covid-19.
Let me be clear. The protocol is not static. There will be ongoing engagement at a national level between stakeholders on its implementation and it is subject to change in line with the latest public health advice or other developments in order to maximise the protection it will afford in our workplaces. While we want workplaces to be able to open in accordance with the roadmap and at the right time in the roadmap, they can only open if that protocol is adhered to and if it is safe to do so.
As we come to 18 May and consider the next steps to open our society and our economy, we will continue to rely on our expert public health advice and carefully assess: the latest data on the progression of the disease; the capacity and resilience of our health service in terms of hospital and ICU occupancy; the capacity of our sampling, testing and contact tracing programme; our ability to protect and care for those who are most at risk from the disease; and the risk of secondary morbidity and mortality as a consequence of the restrictions. It is against those metrics that I will report to Cabinet tomorrow.
The HSE plan for building its capacity to 100,000 tests per week by 18 May is on target, as it outlined this morning. It is fair to say that we have made much progress in terms of increasing the capacity when it comes to testing along every step of the process. Turnaround time is now the absolute priority and I am pleased that the HSE outlined its plans in that regard this morning also. We can move forward with confidence if we know that we have the capacity to quickly contain new cases of Covid-19 in the future. That remains the absolute priority in an area that will require constant attention and vigilance.
We are continuing to focus on the behaviour of the disease in our residential facilities so that we can be best placed to protect those most vulnerable to it. As the initial roll-out of testing in our nursing homes is completed we will continue to protect both residents and staff through our response teams and under the ongoing oversight of our regulator, HIQA. The focus of our testing will now move to other residential facilities and settings so that we can identify and contain any clusters of this disease.
Across phases 1 and 2 of our roadmap we have committed to increasing the delivery of non-Covid-19 healthcare services alongside Covid-19 care to meet demand. This will require very careful planning to ensure that our health services can be delivered in a safe way. Our health service responded to this pandemic with commitment and innovation. We need to build on that innovation as we move forward with resuming non-Covid-19 care. As set out in the roadmap, we will use our modelling capability to assist in predicting demand to inform our capacity planning.
We will continue to deliver care and services in new ways, for example, through telephone consultations and virtual clinics. We will develop new models of care to meet demand and alleviate the concerns of patients, service users and healthcare workers.
Let me be clear about one thing: our planning for future services does not mean that anyone should wait until any date in May, or indeed, for any date at all, before seeking assistance if he or she have any symptoms from any illness that are not Covid-19 related. I urge any person who has symptoms he or she is concerned about to contact his or her GP today or attend an emergency department now. Our healthcare service is there for such people.
It is a privilege to be in a position to see how our country has come together in the face of the threat of Covid-19. I hope the sense of community and care we have experienced in recent weeks continues; in fact, it is going to be essential. I hope our future can be shaped by the actions of us as individuals in recent weeks, where we have worked together to solve problems facing us, where we have trusted each other to play our part, and where no problem has been insurmountable. Every day, thousands of unrecorded acts of kindness and solidarity make it a little easier to come through a difficult day. We have endured much loss and hardship in the weeks since 29 February but we have also shown incredible resilience as a people and a country. I am very conscious there are still questions, some of the most simple and heartbreaking ones, that we cannot answer. When can our children hug their grandparents again? When can we hug one another again? I wish I could answer those questions today but I can tell people we can hold each other safe. We need to hold firm, stay home, stay safe, and protect each other.