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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 8 July, 2020
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Micheál Martin says there is 'no serious justification' for the 5km and 20km limit

Decisions on any changes to the roadmap will only be made after 5 June, Varadkar said today.

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has said he does not agree with the 5km or the 20km limit set out under the first two phases of the government’s roadmap for reopening the economy.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his message is that “we need to hold firm”.

He also appeared to rule out any changes to the phased reopening plan this week.

On the travel restrictions, Martin said “there is no remaining serious justification for the 5 kilometre limit”.

“The public health concern is how people behave around others – not how far they are from their home. In fact, the research shows that this limit may in fact be forcing people in urban areas into more crowded situations.”

He added that he is also not in agreement with the 20km limit, which is set out in Phase Two, where people are allowed to travel 20km from their home.

Varadkar said:

“As a Government we won’t jump the gun by taking unnecessary risks with public health. Any announcement of whether we can go to Phase 2 or whether we can make any changes to the plan will have to wait until June 5th when we have more data available and the latest advice from NPHET.”

Martin raised concerns about retailers, and why some are open and others are not.

“Equally the current distinctions between different types of shop are at best arbitrary. Supermarkets have been open throughout the pandemic while implementing measures about distancing and hygiene. The figures on community spread suggest that the supermarkets have not played a role in spreading the virus – where the overwhelming issue is clustering in health facilities, nursing homes and some workplaces like meat factories,” he said.

Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that supermarkets Aldi and Lidl are reporting that around 20 staff members between the two retailers contracted coronavirus, out of workforce of about 9,000.

The overriding need now is to move to a situation where the focus is put on showing people how to behave once most activity is restored, said Martin.

“We don’t need empty feel-good advertising with a single photo and a hashtag – we need a simple public education campaign,” he told the Taoiseach.

Martin said he is also concerned about whether the government is handling the process of the return of social and economic activity properly.

“A serious concern though is that there is a very real danger of a growing division in the population between those who fear change and those who are angry about restrictions which appear to not be fully justified.

“Certainly people are entitled to look at measures implemented in countries where the community spread of the virus has not spiked and ask why the situation in Ireland should be so different,” he said.

Martin said the restrictions which are currently in place in relation to most workplaces and many social activities will lose public support if they are no longer seen as actually being based on clear scientific evidence.

He spoke about the debate over the 2 metre social distance guidance. Ministers will raise the matter with the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan today.

“It has been acknowledged is not required by the science, it has been helpful but it cannot be allowed to block Ireland restarting activity which is already underway elsewhere without a negative impact,” he said.

The Fianna Fáil leader said Europe as a whole has entered a new phase in the response. He noted that after Germany’s major reopening, there were reports of a rise in its reproduction rate, but two weeks later it appears that the figure is well below 1 and is in line with Ireland’s figure.

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He called for “greater urgency and ambition” in preventing otherwise sustainable Irish businesses from suffering a terminal cashflow crisis.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also raised the issue of the 20km rule, stating that loosening of it would on 5 June would help the tourism sector.

Labour’s Alan Kelly said that aspects of the roadmap “are going to have to be brought forward”. He said the two metre rule is not practical in some circumstances, stating that it is one of the reasons that is hindering the reopening of non-Covid care.

Kelly said the rules around funerals will have to change, and said he was begging the Taoiseach to make amendments. He suggested that 30 people should be allowed to attend.

Varadkar said discussions have taken place with Church leaders as to how to change the rules, stating that there might be difficulties with smaller churches.

He said discussions are also taking place with the chaplaincy about baptisms and how the holding of some small weddings might take place.

The Taoiseach reiterated that the government plans to extend the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme beyond 8 June.

He expects Cabinet to make a decision on the issue next week.

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