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Government concerned about weekend crowds but further restrictions won't be based on 'what's trending on Twitter'

It is expected that further recommendations will be made by public health officials tomorrow.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris speaking outside Alone offices this morning.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris speaking outside Alone offices this morning.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Mar 23rd 2020, 2:15 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has expressed concern about reports of large numbers of people in public spaces over the weekend, but downplayed the idea of a complete lockdown in the country. 

Speaking to reporters as he visited the offices of the charity for older people, Alone, this morning, the Taoiseach said he wanted to acknowledge that most people were following the public health advice. 

“But there were scenes over the weekend of very crowded parks, very crowded public places and in fairness to those people they probably turned up not realising how crowded they were going to be so I don’t think we should be berating people,” he said. 

He said any decision on further restrictions will not be based on “what’s trending on Twitter or because of populist pressure”, it will be made based on the advice of the CMO and his team of public health doctors. 

The Chief Medical Officer and the National Public Health Emergency Team will meet tomorrow to consider further recommendations relating to social distancing for the government. The Taoiseach said if further recommendations are made, the government will implement them. 

Varadkar cited Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation who said some countries are focusing “a bit too much on lockdown”.

He said there is a risk that if you have a very sharp lockdown, the virus “might come roaring back” afterwards. 

New confirmed cases of Covid-19 have “fewer close contacts” than before which shows people are making an effort in social distancing, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

This weekend, large crowds were seen in public parks and other areas around the country, including Howth in Dublin. 

The Dublin Fire Brigade issued a warning to people on Twitter about “worrying scenes” in Howth yesterday. 

“Find somewhere else to go, or go home,” the Fire Brigade tweeted. “Remember the virus doesn’t spread itself, YOU spread it.”

An Garda Síochana said gardaí helped the HSE ambulance service with a group of five young people, one of whom was supposed to be self-isolating awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.

“Parents – step up to the mark. Your responsibility. We are busy enough,” An Garda Síochana said. 

Tweet by @An Garda Síochána Source: An Garda Síochána/Twitter

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Health Minister Simon Harris said it is likely that there will be further recommendations after tomorrow’s meting. However he said the impacts of the measures implemented so far are already being seen. 

“The Chief Medical Officer [Dr Tony Holohan] is now telling me that when we see confirmed cases of Covid-19, we’re now seeing those cases with fewer close contacts,” Harris said.

“In other words, people are making a real, conscious effort to social distance, and that is really good.”

People have been asked to do a huge amount and it’s very challenging, and it’s awkward and it can be difficult for families, you remember people who have maybe kids at home, and no schools no sports.

Two metres apart 

Harris reminded the public that people “need to abide by the social distancing”.

“That means there should be two metres between you and other people… If you can’t do this, you shouldn’t be operating.” 

In terms of the guidance expected from Dr Tony Holohan’s team tomorrow, Harris said more advice for playgrounds, public spaces and businesses could be useful. 

“We need to get this right. Social distancing is not just something that’s nice to do. It’s actually the difference between saving lives and not, and when we look at what’s happening in Italy over the weekend, a fellow member state of the European Union, seeing hundreds upon hundreds of people dying in one day.

We are working so hard, we must work so hard to make sure we don’t go that way, we’re not going to go the way, we can’t go that way.

A senior official from the Department of An Taoiseach, Liz Canavan briefed the media this morning, and on the issue of social distancing said the chief medical officer will continue to monitor compliance.

“We have received significant feedback and concern from the public relating to non- compliance and social distancing over the weekend, particularly in measured spaces. It’s clear that the vast majority of citizens are complying with the guidelines, but compliance is not universal, as you all have seen.

“So the CMO is continuing to monitor the situation. However, we will continue to be meeting with teleconferencing with relevant public authorities, including national parks, Wildlife, cuiture heritage Council, and local authorities to develop clear, simple public messaging so we can enjoy these public spaces safely at this time.”

She said that the government would seek to keep public spaces open while reinforcing the need to keep distance between people.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Martin Varley from the Irish Hospital Consultants Association asked the public to “please follow all the instructions vis-a-vis hand washing, vis-a-vis public distancing”.

“That’s what will reduce the surge and reduce the amount in hospitals,” he said.

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Christian Lindmeier from the World Health Organisation said people should behave as if they are already infected with Covid-19. 

“Try to behave as if yourself you are infected and you don’t want to infect anybody else,” he advised, 

“Instead of thinking yes, yes I will be okay if I pay attention – think the other way.” 

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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