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'We need a change in approach': Dáil hears debate on zero-Covid strategy

The Labour tabled a motion calling for a “national aggressive Covid-19 suppression strategy”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

THE DÁIL HAS heard calls for “a new approach” to tackling Covid-19, with opposition parties calling for the “maximum suppression” of the virus.

The debate comes as part of a Private Members’ Motion being tabled by the Labour party which calls for a “national aggressive Covid-19 suppression strategy”.

Introducing the motions this morning, Labour leader Alan Kelly TD said the government needs to “give people hope” and that he has “never seen so many people in such a distressed state”

The motion says that the government’s Living with Covid-19 plan has “failed to cope with the most recent wave of infection” and adds that “the economy has been shut down three times, for almost six months over the past ten months”.

The motion makes reference to the arguments of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group which has advocated for a ‘Zero-covid’ strategy. The motion says that such a strategy is “urgently required”. 

“We are advocating for a national aggressive suppression strategy, zero Covid-19 by another name,” Labour’s Ged Nash TD told the Dáil. 

He said that the motion was “not about being right or wrong or political point-scoring”

We want to suppress the virus and ensure that we get the case numbers down so low, to double digits, that we can give Ireland a chance that 2021 will be different from 2020 because the people are at the end of their tethers and they need that chance.   

Speaking on the motion, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD referred proposal as a “rigours zero-Covid strategy” regardless of what it is called. 

“Whether people are calling it a maximum suppression strategy or an aggressive suppression strategy it amounts to the same,” Shortall said. 

It’s about driving down the virus figures, ideally to single digit and having a proper testing and tracing system that is capable of actually hunting down the virus and jumping on any outbreak and finding out where it came from and dealing with it.

PastedImage-43319 Labour leader Alan Kelly TD Source: Oireachtas.ie

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane TD commended the Labour party for bringing the motion and said there was “no doubt whatsoever that we need to change in approach”. 

Cullinane said that “investments were not made and appropriate responses” were not introduced when virus numbers have been brought to low levels. 

He said that, after suppressing the virus, the State had “lost control of the virus not because of anything that the public has done but more because the government hasn’t got their house in order”.

Cullinane was one of a number opposition politicians who criticised Tánaiste Leo Varadkar for his comments yesterday in which he speculated on when some parts of the economy might reopen

“It’s really important that lessons are learned, I have to say the kite-flying by the Tánaiste yesterday is an an absolute disgrace,” he said. 

Labour’s Aodháin Ó Ríordáin TD also criticised Varadkar’s intervention, referring to him as “the minister for beer gardens”. 

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“The minister for beer gardens comes out and furthers his own personal agenda. Again making things worse, talking about potentially reopening family gatherings or industry potentially reopening. And nowhere recognising the fact that we are in the teeth of a body count,” the deputy said. 

A number of TDs spoke out against Labour’s motion, with Michael Healy-Rae saying pursuing a Zero-covid approach would destroy businesses. 

He said the Labour party “don’t understand work and don’t understand business”.

“They don’t have a clue, all they’re trying to do here today is making themselves relevant in a debate,” he said. 

In response to Labour’s motion, the government is putting forward its own amendment that seeks to acknowledge the Living With Covid-19 plan, notes the rollout of the vaccine and recognises the societal cost brought about by the virus. 

Moving this amendment, Minister for Heath Stephen Donnelly said that the government “remains absolutely determined in its resolve to tackle the spread of Covid-19″. 

He said that the plan “aims to suppress the virus to the greatest extent possible while allowing society and businesses to operate as much as possible”.

“It was designed to help people and organisations anticipate and prepare for the measures that might be needed to suppress the virus,” he added.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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