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Taoiseach says cost of Covid-19 elimination strategy would be 'very severe'

Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the economic and societal cost would be too great.

Michéal Martin in the Dáil today.
Michéal Martin in the Dáil today.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the implications of pursuing a Covid-19 elimination strategy in Ireland would be “very severe on workers and on society itself”. 

Martin was speaking during Leaders’ Questions in response to Social Democrats’ co-leader Roisín Shortall TD, who had asked the Taoiseach to explain the government’s strategy “in the medium and long term”. 

“There’s been little or no political or public discussion of this. Essentially there are three strategies; there’s herd immunity, there is zero or near elimination, or there is what we are doing,” Shortall said. 

The five level plan is a very good framework. It distinguishes rates and responses in different areas but it is not a strategy. What we’re doing is a certain level of testing and there are a few controls on flights. We’re continuing with the public health messaging about mask-wearing and social distancing but that is clearly not enough.

“Our response to an upsurge in it is a lockdown or a close down. That can work in the short term, but it is not a sustainable strategy. And that’s not a sustainable strategy, even in the medium term because the price that has been paid for that is simply too high.”

In response, Martin said he “doesn’t believe in the herd immunity approach”, adding that those who have previously advocated for it “didn’t fully realise the impact of this virus on people and on people’s health, even if you survive”.

Summarising the government’s plan, Martin said the strategy is to “suppress the spread of the virus whilst maintaining the quality of lives of as many people as as possible”. 

He said the cost of pursuing an elimination strategy was too great. 

“Let’s also accept that the economic and social implications of the elimination strategy would be very, very significant and very severe, on workers and on society itself,” Martin said. 

Committee

PastedImage-42597 Social Democrats' co-leader Róisín Shortall. Source: Oireachtas.ie

In a back-and-forth with Shortall, who was seeking “more cross-party discussion on managing the virus”, Martin said he has “no difficulty” with such an approach and pointed to the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19. 

“If you’re suggesting that some new forum should be created, perhaps in a non-contentious environment which would facilitate maybe a more reasonable timeframe to explore these issues, I think that would be a good idea. One of the challenges we have though is we have a lot of people on the front line who could usefully contribute and to that debate,” the Taoiseach said. 

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Also today, an advisor to the World Health Organisation told the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee that Ireland should allow Covid-19 to spread in a “controlled” way among people under 60.

Dr Johan Giesecke, former Chief Epidemiologist in Sweden said the government should protect the elderly with frequent tests of staff and residents in care homes.

He warned against building a Covid-19 strategy on the imminent advent of a vaccine.

“We might have to wait for it and it may not be very effective in those who need it most,” he said.

- With reporting by Christina Finn

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