Leo Varadkar: ‘We’re on track to move to next phase’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the country is on course for phase two of the lockdown exit plan and he will look next week at whether we can bring forward the following phases.
Leo Varadkar: ‘We’re on track to move to next phase’
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe arriving at the media briefing outside Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Additional reporting by Paul Hosford

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the country is on course for phase two of the lockdown exit plan and he will look next week at whether we can bring forward the following phases.

The move comes as pressure mounts to reopen the country at a quicker pace and the majority of businesses before the end of June.

However, the Government is standing firm on restricting retail, movement, and socialising, despite falling Covid-19 numbers.

Mr Varadkar said: “We are on track to move to phase two as intended on Monday, 8 June. It takes at least two weeks to know if the actions to ease restrictions are having an effect, it will be next week before we can determine whether we can move to phase two.”

While numbers are going in “the right direction”, he said 1,500 people have died from the virus.

However, the Government will study the figures, including infections and hospital care, and how other countries exit outbreaks, and decide next week whether it has “any confidence about bringing forward” the lifting of restrictions from phase three or four.

Phase three, not due until June 29, allows for phased visiting in hospitals and care facilities. Health chiefs say they are looking at this for nursing homes. It also allows for the reopening of cafes, restaurants, playgrounds, and non-essential retail outlets. Sporting activities can also resume behind doors.

Employers group Ibec has sent a letter to Mr Varadkar and ministers warning the majority of businesses must reopen by the end of June.

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said: “Nobody knows whether this will be the right decision in the long run but one thing can be stated with certainty: The length of the lockdown will help determine the scale of the fall in economic activity.”

Immediate actions demanded by employers include:

  • The removal of quarantine restrictions;
  • The replacement of the two metre social distancing requirement to one metre;
  • The end of lockdown by the end of June.

However, attempts to re-start services are causing confusion, and doubts surround how schools and creches can function with strict distancing rules.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone confirmed childcare providers have been told of new guidelines for reopening for essential workers at the end of June.

Special play pods will be able to hold up to 12 two-year-olds with two staff.

Staff will not have to wear masks and parents may have to arrive and leave at staggered times.

However, the plan, before it even gets approval from carers and services, does not include any way to guarantee creche workers are properly paid if capacity is significantly reduced.

The Irish Examiner understands that government- formation negotiators have considered allowing childcare workers receive the wage subsidy scheme until the end of the year, but there is no plan yet.

Last night, President Michael D Higgins told The Late Late Show that society could not function without essential workers and they should be remunerated fairly for the work they do.

“These are the essential workers in society without whom society could not function,” said President Higgins.

“We’re paying tribute to them and we’re thanking them but we wouldn’t want to leave it at that and I think we have to ask ourselves a question: ‘Have we underrated the work they do?’

“We need to follow through and look at how they are remunerated and the security and conditions they are asked to work in.”

Meanwhile, Cabinet has also agreed to end a €115m monthly contract to use private hospitals during the pandemic by the end of June.

Instead, Health Minister Simon Harris will try and negotiate a new deal to give the State step-in rights to access intensive care beds in the event of a second virus wave.

Last night, a further six virus deaths were announced, while the number of cases has risen by 39, bringing the total to 24,876.

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