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Leo Varadkar: Decision will be made next week on possible restrictions after 12 April

Simon Coveney said restrictions on public movement due to the Covid-19 emergency may be extended beyond the current 12 April deadline.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Apr 2020

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that “we are not where we want to be with testing”, and that anomalies in relation to the Covid-19 payment were “a price worth paying” during a press briefing this evening.

Varadkar was speaking at Government Buildings following a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on coronavirus today. 

Varadkar said that although the rate of increase of Covid-19 cases was reducing from a daily increase of 25% to around 10%, “the progress we’ve made is not enough, we need to get the rate of increase down to 5% or less”.

Today’s daily figures of 402 confirmed Covid-19 cases represents an increase of 11.6%.

He also said that a decision would be made at the end of next week on what measures will follow after Easter Sunday 12 April – the deadline by which the latest restrictions were due to end.

“We will have a better idea, towards the end of next week as to how we’re getting on because we know then whether the most recent restrictions are making a difference.”

Hospital system

“In my 20 years in and out of hospitals in my various different guises I’ve never seen so much capacity available in our public hospitals as we have now, and that is encouraging,” Varadkar said. 

He added that the surge of the pandemic had “not come yet” and is only starting, but that the 2,000 empty beds in hospitals would help treat a surge of cases.


On testing

Varadkar said that even though “we are in the top 5 or 6 countries when it comes to testing”, that “it’s not where we want to be, and that’s not where we thought we would be with testing”.

He said that they were testing around 2,500 a day, adding “we want to be doing much better than that”.

Varadkar said that the government has had issues with setting up a testing system in Ireland: it first had an issue with acquiring tests, then an issue in setting up testing sites, then an issue with lab capacity, and then a shortage of reagents, or a chemical used in testing samples.

There will be a point in the future, where we start to ease the restrictions, and we can only ease those restrictions, if we have a good testing and contact tracing infrastructure available to us.

On PPE (personal protective equipment), Varadkar said that the first 10 flights carrying medical equipment from China had arrived, and that they were in the process of assuring it was quality assured before it’s distributed.

On the economy

“I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that the economic picture is very bad,” Varadkar said.

“We’re facing a public health emergency, which in turn is leading to an economic recession. But, as is always the case and has always been the case, we will get through this,” he said.

Essentially, in order to stop the spread of this virus, we’ve had to put our economy to sleep, our economy’s in hibernation. But we’re already preparing for the recovery, because we want to make sure that when our economy wakes up, that it wakes up and is back to full health and roaring again within a few months, if that’s possible.

He said that Ireland’s economic objective, in tackling the pandemic, “is to avoid a period of austerity,” adding that he believed this could be done.

On reports that there are anomalies in the Covid-19 payments, including some Irish people in Australia availing of the payment, Varadkar said that it would be a concern for him if there are any people availing of any State payments that they aren’t entitled to.
“There are people who working part-time who lost their jobs who are slightly better off, and there are people who are getting the payment and are losing money,” he said.

“I have heard stories of people who have asked their employers to lay them off, I would say to those people we are all in this together.” 

“The main objective is that people have a safety net,” he said, adding that some people receiving the payment that shouldn’t “is a price worth paying”.

People are applying for universal credit across the border in Northern Ireland, he added. 

On education

The Taoiseach said that as it stands now, the Junior and Leaving Cert exams will go ahead in June as planned.

“We really want you to start college or university in September-October,” he said addressing State exam students directly, adding that it would have a knock-on implication for services and industries if there wasn’t an intake of students to courses for the 2020/21 academic year.

He said that the State Examinations Commission was drawing up options for the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert to take place in June “by hook or by crook”.


09 NO FEE Gov Briefing COV-19

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said restrictions on public movement due to the Covid-19 emergency may be extended beyond the current 12 April deadline.

Speaking to the reporters today, Coveney said may be extended on advice on public health experts. 

“I think people do need to realise that these restrictions may go on for sometime and it’s wrong to put a timeline on it,” he said.

“We’ve set an initial period but I think it may well be that we will need to go beyond that initial deadline. But again that will be a decision taken with the best public health advice that we can get.”

Speaking ahead of a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Covid-19, the Tánaiste said that the doubling of bed capacity might not be enough. 

He said it is important to “take positives when they are there” stating that the spread of the virus is staying below what was predicted some weeks ago, but it would be wrong to be complacent. 

“What the HSE is doing is doubling bed capacity in the space of a couple of weeks to add, if we need it, an extra 10,000 beds to the system.

“They’re not obviously all equivalent to hospital beds, but they are beds that can take huge pressure off the conventional hospital system to actually create space in our hospitals for patients if we see a dramatic increase in the number of people that need hospital care, as we expect we will.

“We don’t know yet whether it’s going to be enough. But what we can say is, the more discipline the public shows, in terms of complying with the restrictions and the guidelines that we have asked them to comply with, then the higher the likelihood that our health system is going to be able to deal with the peak of this crisis when it happens.”

Coveney said “this is serious stuff,” adding that contact tracing is now being rolled out those suspected cases of Covid-19, not just confirmed cases. The measures people are taking are making a difference, he said, pointing to a reduction in the numbers of people showing up in contact tracing.

Updated by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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