Health Minister says everything cannot go ‘back to normal’ after Easter Sunday

Health Minister Simon Harris said restrictions put on people to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak cannot stay in place for very long and he is concerned about the nation’s mental health.
Health Minister says everything cannot go ‘back to normal’ after Easter Sunday
Simon Harris. Pitcure: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times/PA Wire

Health Minister Simon Harris said restrictions put on people to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak cannot stay in place for very long and he is concerned about the nation’s mental health.

The restrictions will remain in place for the next two weeks until Easter Sunday when they will be reviewed.

Under the restrictions, people are only allowed to leave their home for essential work, to buy food, attend medical appointments, vital family reasons or to take exercise within 2km of their home.

Health Minster Simon Harris told radio station FM104 he is unsure when the restrictions will remain in place until but hopes some progress is made by Easter Sunday.

“Will the measure be extended beyond Easter Sunday? I’ve got to be truthful, I don’t know. I think these measures are so restrictive and significant that you cannot leave them in place for a very long time.

“The judgment call our doctors had to make was, what is the right time to bring these measures in? So what we’re planning to do is going intensively at this now for a couple of weeks so that when we get to Easter Sunday we can see some progress.

Everything can’t go back to normal – it would be a complete fantasy to think that would happen.

"This virus will be with us for many months but is there some things we can lift on Easter Sunday? That is what we are all hoping.

“It is bloody tough. You’re asking parents… I mean, the novelty of having a couple of days off school have long worn off. It was like the first day of the snow when everyone was happy to be home. On the second day they were getting a bit bored and on the third day they wanted out of their houses.

“It is tough for families at home – kids are off school and climbing the walls.

“These measures are tough but we are doing them to save lives because we don’t want to go the way of Italy where almost 1,000 people died in one day. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t absolutely serious.

“People in Ireland are really pulled together at the moment but there is something I am worried about beyond the coronavirus and that is people’s mental health. It is not normal what we are asking people to do.

“All of us miss friends, family and we like meeting up and the odd hug, going to the pub and having a pint and meeting your friends.

“I don’t want to sound naff when I say this but we all need to be kinder to each other. The next two weeks are going to be tough but the prize is huge. If we get this right, we’re going to look back at this time where we lived through this weird time and couldn’t go more than 2km from our house to walk the dog and so on.

“Without worrying people, there is always more steps we can take but at the moment there isn’t a sheet in the department with a load of more measures we can take. What we have done is pretty serious and significant. It has effectively suspended normal life for people right across the country.”

Mr Harris praised people for their efforts during the crisis.

“People are making a big effort and it has really shown the best of Ireland. We have seen so many people step forward and say I want to help.

“I don’t want to over-eggW it but we have seen some annoying behaviour where gardai have been spat at on the street and this stupid thing called the corona challenge where people go and cough in people’s faces.

“You will get idiots in every situation but the overwhelming majority of Irish people have been amazing.”

The minister will meet nursing home officials on Monday afternoon to discuss new measures to tackle Covid-19 in nursing homes.

In a message on Twitter on Sunday night, Mr Harris said he was worried about the prevalence of the virus among older people.

According to Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) data, Covid-19 clusters were reported in three residential settings and 17 nursing homes,

The nursing home clusters account for 22% of the total number of clusters outbreaks in the Republic.

CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland Tadgh Daly told RTE radio representatives from the nursing home sector he will meet Mr Harris on Monday afternoon.

Mr Daly said: “We’re somewhat concerned the HSE is still recruiting people from our sector and one of our asks of the Minister today will be to desist recruiting people who are already working on the frontline.

“This is a national effort and we need a national response. People who applied to the On Call initiative should be made available to the nursing home sector if and when required.”

On Sunday 10 more people died in of Covid-19 in the Republic and there were 200 further cases.

The median age of the deaths is 77.

Operators of most public transport services are operating a new schedule of services on a phased basis from Monday morning.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) said revised timetables are now in place for Irish Rail while those for Dublin Bus, Go-Ahead Ireland and Bus Eireann will come into effect from Wednesday April 1 with services running at around 80% of their current levels.

The Chinese ambassador in Ireland He Xiangdong said he and his staff at the Embassy are helping to organise the millions of euro worth of protective equipment for healthcare workers in Ireland.

The first of dozens of flights from China carrying consignments of personal protective equipment (PPE) landed in Dublin on Sunday.

Speaking to RTE Morning Ireland, He Xiangdong said: “The airports in Beijing and Shanghai are terribly busy with all the cargo flights from abroad.

“I think the supply chain in China is under huge pressure, we will do our best for all the world.

“I think the HSE procurement department is working closely with the supplier in China. We will try and do our best together to make sure all the PPE will abide by the standards.”

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