CMO warned that differing approaches to Covid-19 on both sides of border posed 'threats to us all'

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told the most senior officials of government departments that different approaches to Covid-19 containment on both sides of the border could “pose threats to us all”.
CMO warned that differing approaches to Covid-19 on both sides of border posed 'threats to us all'

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told the most senior officials of government departments that different approaches to Covid-19 containment on both sides of the border could “pose threats to us all”.

Minutes of senior management meetings from the Department of Justice show how Mr Holohan delivered the warning in a briefing to Secretaries General from across government.

The minutes of the St Patrick’s Day meeting said: “The CMO believes the differing responses in the north and the south of the country may pose threats to us all.”

As lockdown began, Mr Holohan told the state’s most senior officials to expect the situation to “continue for some time” with not enough information available to estimate when cases were likely to peak.

The records – which have been released under Freedom of Information – detail the Department of Justice response to the Covid-19 crisis throughout March, April, and May.

Minutes of one management board from early April show how the Department of Justice ran into difficulties in ensuring certain staff working from home had enough to do.

“There were some challenges in ensuring staff who had yet to receive remote access had sufficient work,” officials were told. The meeting said “more structured direction from line managers” would be needed.

In the earliest meetings, the department’s most senior officials were also told to “nominate substitutes” in the event they themselves became ill or were forced to self-isolate.

On March 21, the meeting was told that “increased instances of domestic violence are being reported” and that the department were working with non-governmental organisations to provide extra support. Three days later, the department reported a suspected case at Dublin Airport as well as “citizenship applications [having] doubled".

Separately, contingency plans were being put in place for staffing at the airport with immigration officials told to cease taking fingerprints.

A meeting on April 1 was told data was being gathered on people still arriving in Ireland and where they were coming from. Arrivals at Dublin Airport were down by approximately 95% and four-in-five people landing there were Irish nationals, with the next largest category from the UK.

The meeting was told any recommendations to restrict travel would be made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and that arrival and visa data would be provided to them.

The following day, the meeting was told referrals to Tusla were down and that gardaí were “generally satisfied” with public response to lockdown measures.

On April 6, officials heard that gardaí were concerned by a possible upsurge in travel over the Easter weekend.

The meeting was also told that a plan to provide isolation facilities in hotels for residents of direct provision had “fallen through, late in the process”.

They also heard how there were challenges in identifying vulnerable groups in the asylum system as well as care workers.

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