Country must 'find a new way of living' as cabinet set to extend Covid-19 controls

The country has been told must “find a new way of living” as severe restrictions on personal freedoms are to be extended beyond next Tuesday.
Country must 'find a new way of living' as cabinet set to extend Covid-19 controls
Minister for Health Simon Harris TD (left) and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD (centre) with staff members as the Taoiseach visits the COVID-19 Community Assessment Hub in DCU Collins Avenue. (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire)

Additional reporting by Aoife Moore and Eamon Quinn

The country has been told it must “find a new way of living” as severe restrictions on personal freedoms are to be extended beyond next Tuesday.

The Cabinet will today sign off on an expected extension to the Covid-19 lockdown and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to appear on the ‘Late Late Show’ to explain the proposed roadmap out of the current crisis to the Irish people.

But it has been made clear that the country is not yet ready to see the restrictions lifted.

This is despite a plea from several ministers directly to the Chief Medical Officer yesterday to relax the rules for the over 70s at a “passionate and robust” meeting yesterday.

Ministers were requested to attend the meeting by a text message from Mr Varadkar the night before.

Under pressure, Dr Tony Holohan warned against relaxing restrictions saying any change could put Ireland’’s intensive care facilities in difficulty.

"The advice now is that we shouldn’’t lift restrictions," Dr Holohan said.

Dr Holohan said the stepwise plan for lifting restrictions, which is expected to be announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Friday, will be announced in three-week intervals, in order to monitor spread of the virus.

Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr. Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Siobhán Kennelly, HSE National Clinical Advisor and Group Lead for Older Persons and Prof Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group at a Covid -19 update press conference at the Department of Health. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr. Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Siobhán Kennelly, HSE National Clinical Advisor and Group Lead for Older Persons and Prof Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group at a Covid -19 update press conference at the Department of Health. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Some ministers said there may be “minor changes around the edges” at best, but only if they are in keeping with social distancing rules.

While there may be some loosening on non-contact sports it was made clear the opening of pubs will be towards the later phases.

Frontline health workers are to have childcare provided in their homes in the first phase of Government plans to ease restrictions due to Covid-19.

It is understood that the proposal is the National Public Health Emergency Team’’s -NPHET- preferred option to protect families and workers.

A further 43 people have died, bringing the total of COVID-19 related deaths in Ireland to 1,232, it was announced last night.

"We’’ve seen improvement in ICU numbers, but it’’s still above 100 and that’’s a substantial proportion of our ICU capacity, we have to take that by way of example.

"If we look at all of the measures that we think is important, notwithstanding the progress we’’ve made, the case has not been made yet to believe that now is the time to lift restrictions, so my belief hasn’’t changed."

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, added: "People need to be very cautious about how they go about their daily business in the future, we have to find a new intermediate way of living and this is the challenge of laying out any kind of roadmap."

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19. (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire)
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19. (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire)

Echoing Dr Holohan’s comments, Tanaiste Simon Coveney said “there should not be an expectation here that it’’s going to be significant change to the restrictions.”

“We still have a lot of people who are dying from this virus and we’’re not quite where we need to be in terms of loosening restrictions significantly,” he said.

Referring to representations made by his ministerial colleagues to Dr Holohan at yesterday’s meeting, Mr Coveney said: “Everybody wants to see a loosening of restrictions, everybody wants to see people over the age of 70”.

But he warned that “if we make changes too quickly, we could suddenly find that the virus could suddenly explode into the community, in a way that could have very severe consequences,” he said.

Meanwhile, as attention shifts to the ever-mounting financial cost of dealing with the financial crisis, several leading economists have cast doubt over the next government’s ability to further hike carbon taxes.

The experts have warned that the next finance minister will find it almost impossible to hike budget taxes on the ‘old reliables’ of booze, tobacco, petrol and other carbon taxes.

Kieran McQuinn, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said hiking carbon taxes, including petrol taxes, had become politically trickier, while taxing drinkers wasn’t feasible amid fears the pubs could stay shut for some time.

The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:

  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

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