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Varadkar intends to publish exit plan, but doesn't know if restrictions will be lifted on 5 May

The Taoiseach wants to publish the roadmap before 5 May.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he does not know if coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on 5 May.

“I don’t yet know if we’ll be able to relax restrictions on 5 May. But I do know that if we can at all, it’s going to be gradual and will happen over a number of months,” Varadkar told the Dáil today.

The Taoiseach also outlined that he plans to publish an exit plan for lifting restrictions, but said people should be aware that these plans might change.

“Ideally, we would like to do that before the end of the month, or certainly before 5 May, to be able to set out a road map to ease the restrictions in very clear steps with clear criteria that people can understand,” he said.

Varadkar pointed out that restrictions have had to be re-imposed in Asia.

“Only a scientific breakthrough, a vaccine, or an effective anti antiviral medicine will truly allow life to go back to being as it was. Other breakthroughs, like a reliable antibody test could really help them,” he added.

The Taoiseach said EU guidance was released yesterday on the steps that a government might take to ease or reverse restrictions.

“Ultimately it is down to each member state to make the decisions for itself and each member state is at a different point in the pandemic and each member state is different in many different ways,” said Varadkar.

Areas that will be looked at before the restrictions are lifted include the number of cases and if they are coming down, the number of hospitalisations and if they are stabilising, and also the number of ICU admissions. Whether the death rate is stabilising or going down will also be considered.

Health service capacity is also key, said the Taoiseach.

“If the measures were to be relaxed and if there was then a spike in infections, as we have seen in Asia and other places, do we have the capacity to deal with that – the ICU beds, ventilators and all the rest of it.”

Varadkar said whether the country has testing and contact tracing capacity to spot the outbreak or the spike if that were to occur again is “crucial”.

“Those are the kind of things we need to have in place before we can set out a road map towards easing restrictions,” he said.

The Taoiseach said the Ireland is at an advantage as we are a few weeks behind other countries in terms of the epidemic.

“We can watch what is happening in Italy and Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and so on, in the same way Australia and New Zealand, which are probably four weeks behind us, can watch what is happening here.

“We always need to be very careful about comparing countries because each country is at a different point in the cycle but deputies will be aware that schools are now opening in Denmark and some shops are reopening in Italy and Austria. We will have two weeks of data from those countries before 5 May, which will help to inform us as to whether those actions have been wise,” he said.

“In the times ahead there are three questions we need to consider as an Oireachtas,” Varadkar added.

“The first: when we can begin to lift the current restrictions and start getting things back to normal bit by bit.

“The second is what we need to do to get people back to work and revive and rebuild our economy.

“The third is how we can take what we have learnt in recent weeks and some of the things we have done to build a better society in the aftermath of Covid-19, and how we can honour the sacrifices made in every community.

The Taoiseach was also asked if Ireland would follow in the footsteps of other countries in making the wearing of masks mandatory.

Varadkar said there are differing opinions and many experts do not agree on whether masks or face coverings should be worn more generally.  

“Some say it is effective, some say it is not effective. Some even say it can be counterproductive, particularly if people are not changing their masks regularly, do not wash them, hang them around their necks or touch them.

“The jury is totally out on whether it is a good idea for the asymptomatic population to wear masks in public, but the trend certainly seems to be going that way. Whether that is backed up by science is more questionable,” he said.

The Taoiseach said the government will take the advice of the national public health emergency team on that question.  

“This week it is once again considering what advice we should give on the wearing of masks. We definitely need to make sure that we do not create a supply problem where masks are concerned.  At the moment we have a lot of masks for our healthcare staff and those who need them.

“We do not want everyone in Ireland to wear four million masks a day because we would then have a shortage of masks for our healthcare workers.  We must bear in mind all of these different issues, constraints and priorities,” he said.

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