Dept of Health hires PR firm to avoid confusion around Covid messaging

Dept of Health hires PR firm to avoid confusion around Covid messaging

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly. Picture: Julien Behal

The Department of Health has hired a private company to handle PR after being accused of creating confusion around Covid.

Stephen Donnelly's Department has taken on communications and advisory firm Teneo to help with the launch of next week's medium-term Covid plan.

It comes as the Government's communication strategy was dubbed a "shambles" in the Dáil this week.

A spokesperson denied the PR firm had been recruited to deal with mounting criticism and accusations of mixed messaging around Covid from opposition parties.

It's a case of realising that what we are going to be launching next week is really big.

The spokesperson added that Teneo had been hired on a short-term basis for the rollout of the plan.

The Government has held off on any new restrictions on household visits which are widely expected in Dublin and Limerick until the new 'Living with Covid' plan is launched on Tuesday, which will run for at least six months. 

The plan is expected to set out a grading system from one to five for different parts of the country, as well as an overall national grade.

Grade one will be normal while five is the most serious level, up to and including a second national lockdown. 

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste has warned that Ireland will suffer multiple economic shocks caused by further waves of Covid in the coming months. 

"I think it's very possible that we're going to see multiple waves of the virus and the pandemic. Whether they are small waves that lap at our feet or big ones that knock us over again. Again we just don't know for sure," Mr Varadkar said.

He said there is "no rule-book" to follow on the current economic decline caused by Covid.

"Any policy decisions now are extremely difficult because the whole situation is so uncertain, this is a recession like we haven't seen in our lifetimes, it probably hasn't happened in a century.

"It's probably something more akin to a war or an invasion. A huge demand shock to the economy, and also wars have phases. 

"That's the difficulty that we're in, I think this is a virus that isn't going away. The pandemic is still raging all around the world, and Europe at the moment is experiencing a second wave."

Mr Varadkar said there will be a deficit of at least €25bn this year, however, it will be "closer to €30bn". 

"From the Government's point of view, our macroeconomic and fiscal policy at the moment is for large deficits, but we want to be in the middle of the pack when we compare ourselves with our eurozone peers or other small-to-medium-sized countries in Northern Europe in the eurozone.

"We don't want to be the best boys in the class in terms of fiscal policy, but we don't want to be the European country that has the highest emphasis, as well as a pretty big debt going into this," he said. 

Mr Varadkar said that industries such as the events industry, live music and travel agents will be the focus of supports in the upcoming budget.

Meanwhile, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the Covid medium-term plan will aim to “find the sweet spot” between keeping people safe and living alongside the virus. 

Mr Harris also moved to strongly defend acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn after it was reported that Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry told a meeting of his parliamentary party that he should be taken off the television as he is scaring the public.

"The acting CMO saves lives, the acting CMO is someone who we are indebted to as a country. He is a man who stepped into the breach in difficult circumstances.

"I know during my time as Minister for Health how incredibly hard he has worked I can only imagine how incredibly exhausted he must be. But thankfully I'd say he is too busy to bother himself with reading those comments."

* The headline on this article was amended subsequent to original publication.

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