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Harris urges public to keep number of close contacts 'small' as Ireland enters Phase Two

Harris was speaking as Ireland enters ‘Phase Two Plus’ of easing Covid-19 restrictions.
Jun 8th 2020, 9:02 AM 15,686 47

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has asked people to continue to limit the number of contacts they have with others as Ireland enters Phase Two of easing Covid-19 restrictions today.

Harris was speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland as the country begins ‘Phase Two Plus’, which will see people being allowed to travel within their own county and some shops reopening. 

At the start of May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a five-step plan for lifting the measures put in place by the government to slow the spread of Covid-19.

That five-step plan has been condensed down to four and a number of measures have been brought forward after the government announced the acceleration of the previous roadmap on Friday. 

The government advice to the public has changed from “stay home” to “stay local”.

Health officials have stressed that the modifications are not a licence to return to normal but instead, incremental evolution of the country’s approach to the virus as new cases and hospitalisations continue dropping. 

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Harris said that while the public can now meet up with groups of up to six people, both indoors and outdoors, it is important to “still keep our close contacts small”. 

“Don’t meet up with one group of people in the morning, a different group in the afternoon and another in the evening,” Harris urged. 

“Decide who are the people that I’m missing, my mam, my dad, my brother, my sister, the neighbour down the road who comes in for a cup of tea and make those arrangements,” he said.

Keep a list of the close contacts that you are meeting, jot them somewhere so that if there is a case we can quickly contact trace. Make sure when you do meet up you keep those two metres, keep that physical distance, that’s really important.

“Remember, meeting outdoors is still better than meeting up indoors.”

Pace of reopening

Harris was later asked about the pace of which Ireland is reopening, with some other European countries easing restrictions at a quicker rate. 

He said that “what looks slow today may look very prudent or sensible in three or four weeks time”. 

“This is a very dynamic situation. I think what we showed as a government and as a country on Friday was that we are willing to adapt as the virus trajectory changes in our country,” Harris said. 

“We have public health advice now that says it is safe to maybe do a reopening plan over four phases rather than five, so we’ll be looking at the remaining phases to see how best to sequence them if you like, but we’re gonna make sure our public health is first here, because people have come too far sacrificed too much and made too much progress to go backwards,” he said. 

A number of schools around Europe have already begun to reopen its doors, however, Ireland does not currently plan to allow pupils to return until the next school year. 

When questioned on this, Harris said he doesn’t believe that handling of school closures has been “mishandled”. 

“I don’t think we should ever apologise to the country for taking a precautionary approach when it comes to our children’s health,” Harris said. 

“I don’t think there’s a parent listening to this programme who wouldn’t want their government to do everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of their children,” he said.

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Speaking generally about entering Phase Two of easing restrictions, Harris said “it’s a day of hope today that we weren’t guaranteed to get to”. 

“It is a really good day, people have brought us to this point, they’ve made huge progress, but what I am saying to people is this – I want a good day to become a good week, a good month, a good year. I want us to keep going forward,” Harris said. 

“To do that, the issue of our own personal behaviour now becomes more important than ever.”

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