Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at McKee barracks today. Photocall Ireland

Taoiseach says there are risks to lifting restrictions too soon and county-by-county

Advice on whether restrictions should be extended will be given later this week.

WORK IS UNDERWAY on how to ease stay-at-home restrictions and how to restart sections of the economy, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today. 

Speaking to reporters at McKee Barracks in Dublin today, Varadkar said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will recommend to government later in the week as to whether the restrictions need to extended beyond 12 April

“We will act on that advice within hours as we have since the start of this crisis. But I don’t want to speculate on that,” he said. 

When put to the Taoiseach that France, Spain, Belgium and Finland are among many countries that have set up expert committees to examine the gradual easing of restrictions, Varadkar said similar work is ongoing in Ireland. 

“The National Public Health Emergency team is doing that work and feeds into the senior officials group, which then feeds into the Cabinet sub-committee,” he said.

“This is an unprecedented situation. There’s no road map for this. There’s no handbook, we’re going to have to figure it out as we go along, using the best advice and watching what’s happening in other countries,” said Varadkar.

However, the Taoiseach said there is a concern that lifting restrictions too soon could result in the further spread of Covid-19. The idea of lifting the restrictions county-by-county has also been floated, but Varadkar raised issues with this also.

“If you have restrictions in one part of the country, and not the other. For example, if we opened the restaurants in one county, but not the other one, would people not flock to that county. So there’s all these things have to be borne in mind.

“And like I say, if we remove restrictions, there is a real risk that the virus will start to spread again. But we also know that the restrictions can’t last forever. And we also know that there are secondary consequences to the restrictions too.”

001 NO REPRO FEE McKee Tour Varadkar said he does not feel there is a need to arrest people for failing to comply with Covid-19 restrictions as there has been widespread compliance.

Tougher laws not needed

The Taoiseach also confirmed today that some emergency powers that would give gardaí additional powers to enforce specific measures introduced in legislation have not been signed. 

Varadkar said he does not feel there is a need to arrest people for failing to comply with Covid-19 restrictions as there has been widespread compliance.

Emergency legislation passed in March provides for extensive new powers for gardaí to police people’s movements in the context of the emergency and arrest people who fail to comply with their instructions.

“Whether it is people self-isolating for 14 days or obeying the rules around social distancing, I am proud that we as a country have been able to do that by consent,” he said.

“We have regulations on the table that are ready to sign if we need to bring in the kind of enforcement powers that exist in other countries. I don’t want to be in a position where we are criminalising people for going more than two kilometres from their house without an adequate excuse. The last thing I want is people to come out of this emergency with fines and prison sentences and criminal convictions.

“I know that is the approach in other countries – I don’t think that is our way. I think we can achieve what needs to be achieved by consent and the public being on board. That has been the case in the vast majority of scenarios. We can bring in tougher laws and they are ready to be signed if we need to. I don’t want to do that just yet unless the Garda Commissioner feels it is absolutely necessary.”

Childcare for health workers

On the issue of helping healthcare workers with childcare, something which has been mooted for some time now, Varadkar said the government was ready to push the button on the plan, but it needs to be cleared by the public health team.

“There are essential workers in the economy and in the health service who are struggling and want to get to work but can’t because childcare is not available to them. A number of proposals are being worked up and it is taking much longer than we would have liked. I understand people’s frustrations – public health has to be the number one concern.

“While we are ready to push the button in terms of providing childcare for essential workers, we need clearance from the public health team.”

He said they needed to make sure whatever new plan put in place did not in itself become a public health risk or allow the virus to be spread.

“It is now an issue of public health clearance and we have not got that yet,” he said. 

Working as a doctor

The Taoiseach also said that he has begun his work as a doctor after re-registering on the Medical Register last month.

Varadkar offered his services to the HSE for one session a week, with the Taoiseach confirming today that he is working with a telephone clinic.

“The idea really is just set aside one session a week to do that. And it’s a gesture of support really, for all the people who work in our health service and everyone beyond our health service who are contributing to the fight against the Covid emergency. And also from a personal point of view, it gives me a chance to just take the temperature of our health service, to talk at least once a week to 10, 20 people who are working in our health service and get the temperature myself as to how things are going and what challenges they’re facing,” he said.

Varadkar said the half-day each week is something he will be “doing quietly for the duration of the emergency” stating there won’t by any photocalls of him doing the work. 

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