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Zero Covid would require 2km limit, closed schools and 'months and months' of Level 5 – Donnelly

The health minister said Zero Covid is “just not possible” to achieve.

Image: LEAH FARRELL

PURSUING A ZERO Covid strategy would require “months and months” of Level 5 restrictions, keeping schools closed and reducing the 5km travel limit to 2km, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has told the Seanad.

Donnelly was quizzed on why Ireland hasn’t followed a Zero Covid plan, similar to countries such as New Zealand, during a debate on legislation to introduce a mandatory quarantine legislation today.

The health minister said that the strategy has many advocates, including in his own political party, but it is “just not possible” to achieve.

“Based on what is required to get there and on the current level of compliance with level 5, the public health advice is that it is just not possible, no matter how much people might want it, particularly with this B117 variant because it is so much more contagious,” he said.

Minister Donnelly added that the strategy would require “no construction, no education, no businesses. Those little bits we have, the little coffee shop where you can get your coffee on your walk, none of that. No sports, no arts, nothing”.

It would require keeping the level 5 measures in place now for months and months. I do not know how long, but September, October or November. It would require not opening the schools. It would probably require going back to a 2 km measure for our homes.

‘Xenophobia’

The Seanad passed the legislation to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine tonight. The Health Amendment Bill 2021 will now proceed to President Michael D Higgins to be signed into law.

The measures will apply to 33 countries currently on the “category 2” list from where the risk of transmission of Covid-19 or mutations of the disease is high. 

Breaches of the quarantine can result in penalties of up to €4,000 and or a one month prison sentence for a first offence. The legislation also increases fixed notice penalties for non-essential travel from €500 to €2,000. 

During the debate Donnelly said that some aspects of the discussion around mandatory quarantine have had a “whiff of xenophobia”.

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“I have heard it said that we must protect our people from foreign people. That is not what this is about,” the minister said.

Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins said that Ireland needs to be consistent in applying the criteria for how countries are designated.

“We hear of xenophobia but it seems very strange to look at a list that is almost entirely made up of countries from the global south when, for example, we know the United States has all the Covid variants and, indeed, new variants such as B1427-B1429,” she said.

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Ceimin Burke

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