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'Refreshed' Living With Covid plan being worked on as Varadkar details Ireland-UK talks on travel

He said there seems to be an “openness” to talking about the two islands working together.

Image: TOM HONAN

Updated Feb 9th 2021, 6:08 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said the Irish and UK governments are discussing the arrangements around travel, stating it would ”make sense” to have the same list of red countries.

He has also said that the government’s Living with Covid-19 plan is in the process of being “refreshed” with an announcement likely on that in two week’s time. 

Travellers arriving into England quarantining in hotels in England will be charged £1,750 (€1,993) for their stay, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today.

UK nationals or residents returning from 33 “red list” countries will be required to spend 10 days in a government-designated hotel.

Anyone who attempts to conceal that they have been in one of those destinations in the 10 days before arrival faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, Hancock said.

He also confirmed the new “enhanced testing” regime for all international travellers, with two tests required during the quarantine process from Monday.

Speaking to reporters, Varadkar said the government is “very much aware” of the hotels decision announced today, but noted that it applies to England only.

He said there is now an added complication of having five different jurisdictions on the two islands, adding that he is “a strong advocate for a two-island strategy”. 

“It would make sense to us, having the same list of red countries,” he said, stating that the two governments should try and co-ordinate their travel plans. 

If Northern Ireland is a back door to the Republic, then Ireland is a backdoor for England, he said, stating that “those contacts [between the two governments] are now underway”. 

He said there seems to be an “openness” to talking about the two islands working together.

While laws around people quarantining at home have already been enacted, primary legislation is required to mandate that people stay in hotels.  

Varadkar said he hopes legislation for mandatory hotel quarantine will be ready next week but government has not made a firm commitment on a more precise timeline.  

He said there are “lots of things” that are being worked out, such as what to do with someone who is a smoker and is being kept in a hotel room for two weeks. 

Speaking about the ten-year prison sentence announced by the British government for those that lie on their personal locator form, Varadkar said he thinks it “is a bit extreme quite frankly”.

As a republic, Ireland has a written Constitution that provides for stronger rights around freedoms, adding that as EU citizens we also have a right to free movement. 

He said the road the UK has gone down is “probably a bit more authoritarian than we would go down”.

Following today’s Cabinet meeting, a government spokesperson said that Varadkar had met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan yesterday and it was agreed that the measures need to be “as restrictive as possible”.  

While legislation has not been published in relation to hotel quarantine, the government is said to be looking at how the measures can be tightened, this could include expanding mandatory hotel quarantine to people who “have returned from holiday destinations”.  

Living with Covid

The Tánaiste said a modified Living with Covid Plan is being worked on, and will include plans to extend the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), something Varadkar already indicated to TheJournal.ie will be pushed out until the summer.

The revised plan should be ready by the week of 22 February, he said.

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Speaking about the revised blueprint for reopening the economy, he said “a lot has changed so it makes sense that we would refresh it”.

The speed at which we reopen all depends what the numbers will be like in a few weeks time, said Varadkar, reiterating what the Taoiseach previously said about a cautious reopening.

Varadkar repeated that he hopes that after 5 March it would be safe for friends and family to be able to meet outdoors.

Speaking about certain sectors, Varadkar said personal services like hairdressers or barbers “will definitely be later than”5 March. 

While he hoped there could be some normality in the spring or summer, he said areas like aviation, tourism, entertainment and events “may not reopen for a very long time” and therefore will require more support packages. 

Speaking on The Last Word on Today FM this evening, Varadkar said that the revised plan “had not been decided yet” and that there is only “initial work at this stage”. 

I suppose takes account of the fact that things have changed since last summer when it was initially published. We now have a vaccine, or three vaccines, and a vaccine program. And also there’s been the emergence of variants of concern. Both of those things have to change the picture of work for the better, and the other for the worse. And as we head into spring, as we head into a period where we hope and expect to be able to reopen our economy and reopen our society, we think it’s a it’s the right time now to refresh that plan.

“We’ll look at the different the five different levels and see if any modifications in that might be appropriate based on what we’ve learned in the past couple of months as to what’s high risk what’s low risk, what kind of we re-openings didn’t cause a spike and what types did,” he said. 

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

 

 

 

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