Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the rise in Covid-19 cases in Donegal, Louth and Waterford is a “cause for concern” and is being “monitored closely”.
Amid growing speculation, the three counties will move to a higher level of restrictions, Mr Martin said a move from level 2 to level 3 is “a significant move” and not done lightly.
Speaking on Pat Kenny’s show on Newstalk, Mr Martin said he and the Government will wait for advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) before any decision is taken.
“Well, I think Nphet will advise us on a continuing basis in relation to the rest of the country. Certainly, Louth, Donegal and Watford are giving rise for concern, and the CMO has said this to us and obviously, that will be closely monitored and it is a significant decision to move up to level three for any county. So that would be carefully considered. And obviously, Nphet will advise Government in relation to those counties, and the broader situation,” the Taoiseach said.
Mr Martin said there isn’t any evidence yet to suggest it is as a result of people from Northern Ireland crossing the border for the increase in cases in Donegal.
“That hasn't been said to us at all, but by the public at this stage, and there can be different reasons as I said earlier, why different countries have different numbers,” the Taoiseach said.
In terms of schools, Mr Martin said it remains the Government’s priority to keep the schools open despite the greater level of restriction in Dublin and the threat of greater restrictions in other counties.
“For example, in terms of testing of zero to 10-year-olds at 0.5%. So that is somewhat reassuring in terms of children transmitting the virus. Clearly, schools as a priority follows because of the mental wellbeing, the child development issues, every child I think needs to be in a learning environment. And so that's a fundamental societal objective, it's something I'm passionate about myself. That said, it does bring increased pressures in terms of the testing system. And clearly, the safe environments, within schools are very important, and I pay tribute to all involved,” he said.
Mr Martin said housemates of people attending parties in apartments need to speak to them about their concerns about public health guidelines.
He also hit out at recent anti-masks marches in Dublin where violent scuffles were videoed saying he “does not approve” of them.
If continued breaches of the law are witnessed, Mr Martin made it clear that increased powers will be introduced. “We have to move in on that and we have to deal with that,” he said.
Asked why they were allowed to go ahead in violation of the rules, the Taoiseach said there is a balance to be struck between democracy and protecting public health.
“There is a balance in our society, we are a democracy. Now I don't approve of those marches, I don't approve of the aggression, that has manifested itself in some of those marches, and I think obviously the State has to make sure that the public health regulations are adhered to in all circumstances,” he said.
Ultimately, he said the gardaí have to make operational decisions. “There's much more at play here than just, I would suggest that then the public health side of this. There's the, you know that we have to balance people's right to have their views. At the same time, at the most also on a publicly safe way,” he said.