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'Prolonged suppression of the virus' is the government's goal, says Taoiseach

Speaking in Leaders’ Questions, he said “there will be no half-measures from me, as Taoiseach, or from Government”.

Opposition TDs have called for mandatory quarantine in hotels for all arrivals into the country.
Opposition TDs have called for mandatory quarantine in hotels for all arrivals into the country.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

A “PROLONGED SUPPRESSION” of the virus is the strategy the Government is pursuing, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said today.

Speaking in Leaders’ Questions, he said “there will be no half-measures from me, as Taoiseach, or from Government”. 

“We will do whatever it takes to keep the numbers down, once we get the numbers down. And we are achieving that,” he said.

Warning backbench TDs, the Taoiseach said he did not want to hear from them calling for certain sectors to reopen in the weeks ahead.

“I don’t want people coming to me again after the 5th of March pleading for one sector or another. We’ve simply had too much of that,” he said.

Speaking about international travel, the Taoiseach left the door open to further quarantining measures, telling the Dail that there will be capacity in the legislation to extend the rules if needed. 

He said the government’s view is very clear, that people should not travel for non-essential reasons. On the matter of people returning from holidays in sun destinations, he said: “That needs to stops, that very clearly needs to stop.” 

“Anybody who travels abroad is breaching Level 5 rules, and that that is the facts. They’re in breach of Level 5 rules, and that carries with it consequences,” he said, stating that anyone found to be travelling to the airport or port for the reason of non-essential travel will get a fixed penalty fine for the breach of €500.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald criticised the government’s new travel measures, stating that hotel-based quarantine must be pursued instead.

“This is not the way to go, this is a mistake. You should recognise what is required,” she said, adding that such measures has the support of the people.

She said the public will “walk those hard yards but who expect you to lead from the front”.

Enforcement 

Asking about how quarantine at home will be enforced, she hit out at the Taoiseach for not consulting with the gardaí about their new role. 

Antoinette Cunningham of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors told Today with Claire Byrne programme that they were not consulted with on the new measures.

She had serious reservations about whether enforcement is possible, pointing out that no Garda member can enter a person’s home without a warrant.

In terms of calling to someone’s home to see if they are there and self isolating, she questioned what they do if there is no answer or someone else in the household says they are upstairs.

She also raised concerns about the health and safety of her members.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy raised concerns about people going away on holidays and also students travelling to Ireland.

She said there is a high degree of fear, but no one is looking to punish people, stating it is a matter of protecting people on the island of Ireland.

She said there are concerns about variants, and possible new variants, telling the Taoiseach that they arrived here on a flight or a boat.

Yesterday, Martin ruled out the idea of a zero-Covid strategy. 

A Zero Covid approach – where a country aims to eliminate domestic transmission of the virus – has perhaps most famously been adopted by New Zealand. Many Opposition parties are now calling for such a starategy here. 

The Taoiseach said Ireland’s public health experts do not recommend such a plan.

“It’s a promise that you could never fulfill,” he said, stating “once you reopen again, the prospect is there for reseeding of the virus”.

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Slow reopening 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Tánasite Leo Varadkar defended he new measures announced yesterday, saying that travel was down 95% or more. 

When ICU numbers and case numbers fall, schools should be allowed to reopen in a phased way, he said. 

While he said there was no exact figure, he would like to see case numbers down to the low hundreds, and ICU numbers reduced to around 50. 

If the numbers are low by 5 March, “we will be able to ease some restrictions”, he said. 

The phased easing of the restrictions would be “more like what we saw after the first wave” rather than a jump from Level 5 to Level 3. 

Varadkar said things that could be re-introduced include being allowed to meet another household, perhaps outdoors, as well as the reopening of some retail or personal services. He said not everything will be reopening on 5 March, and going to Level 3 “would be too much reopening all in one go”. 

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