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Taoiseach says ICU numbers still too high for restrictions to be lifted

A plan on how the country will be reopened will be published in the coming days.

Image: Photocall Ireland

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the number of patients in ICU with Covid-19 is not low enough to ease restrictions on 5 May. 

Speaking to reporters this morning, the Taoiseach also said he plans to make public the plan on how Ireland will reopen in the coming days. 

“I hope to be in a position to share that with the Irish public in the next couple of days, certainly over the weekend.

“What that plan will do is set out the different steps, a step-wise plan if you like, as to how we can reopen the country, and reopen our society based on different intervals.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet on Friday, Varadkar said, to consider when “we should start that process of reopening the country and reopening the economy”. 

“In doing so we really have to look at things like the number of patients who are in ICU with Covid-19. The number of new cases, the number of deaths, and I don’t think I’d be out of school by saying that those numbers just aren’t good enough yet.

“Maybe it’ll change significantly by Friday. But, as things stand, I don’t think we’re there yet.

“There is still a lot of patients, over 100 patients in ICU with Covid-19,” he said, adding that while yesterday had the lowest increase in new coronavirus cases that had been seen in a long time, the number of new cases is still a substantial number. 

229 new cases were confirmed at a briefing last night, as were an additional 59 deaths. 

Varadkar said he understood that people are”enormously frustrated”.

“I think when the restrictions were put in place and the lock down happened people understood why it was necessary. They responded to really well. We even saw people volunteering to close their businesses and close their shops and restaurants before they were asked to do so.

“I am immensely grateful to the Irish public and immensely grateful to the Irish business community … but everyone appreciates in government this has gone on for a long time,” said the Taoiseach.

He acknowledged that people are starting to see other countries opening up and they’re wondering why Ireland is not lifting its restrictions. He said we have to bear in mind that Ireland is behind a number of countries when it comes to the pandemic. 

He said the government will only be comfortable in making the decision to begin to reopen society and the economy when it’s happy that the medical data shows it is safe to so.

“The last thing we want to do, and it may be inevitable, and unavoidable, but the last thing we want to do is to open the country too quickly, and then have to go backwards again,” he said, stating that has happened in Japan and Singapore.

“We really want to do this right. It’s not a perfect science. There’s no rule book or guidebook for all of this. But I’d rather be in a position where we make the decision on the first phase, the phase of reopening at the right time, and not end up having to reverse it,” he said, stating that whatever “morale frustration” is evident now, it would be “ten  times greater if we have to go back”.

The Taoiseach disagreed that the failure to ramp up testing has hindered Ireland’s hopes of reopening sooner. 

The Irish Times reports today that according to Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory at UCD, the inability to meet the target of providing 100,000 tests a week “feeds into” the stance of officials in relation to the lifting of restrictions.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said that testing failures had delayed matters. 

When asked about this, the Taoiseach said:

“No, that’s totally incorrect… In terms of testing, we’ve done 150,000 tests already on a per head basis… Why are we not reopening at this stage? Because of the high number of people and I see who have Covid-19 and the fact that the number of deaths being reported every day is still very high.”

The Taoiseach was also asked about yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, where there were differing views from ministers on the approach to reopening the country.

“Anytime you get 15 or 20 people in the room and ask them for their views on something, you’re going to have different views,” he said.

If he was hearing the same views from his ministers, the Taoiseach said, he would be worried as it would be a “sign of group-think or that they’re somewhat afraid to express their opinions”.

“So what I did yesterday was something very simple, very straightforward. I asked each of them to give me two or three minutes of what their individual views were on how to open the country or reopen the economy, and there was a diversity of views, that’s what I want, that’s what I expect,” he said, adding that he is meeting with other party leaders today and expects to hear something similar.

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