Covid-19: Taoiseach dismisses Varadkar's warning of travel ban to the North

Micheál Martin dismisses a warning given by the Tánaiste that travel to the North could be stopped because of high Covid levels across the border
Covid-19: Taoiseach dismisses Varadkar's warning of travel ban to the North

A spokesperson for Taoiseach Micheál Martin said 'there has never been a ban on North-South travel, nor will there be'. File picture. 

The Taoiseach has dismissed a warning given by the Tánaiste that travel to the North could be stopped because of high Covid levels across the border.

Leo Varadkar told his party colleagues that the public could be advised not to travel to the North as levels of the virus remain much higher in the six counties.

However, a spokesperson for Micheál Martin quickly moved to rule this out and said the possibility of travel restrictions between North and South had not been discussed in the context of easing the current level 5 Covid measures.

As the Government moves to finalise a phased easing of restrictions starting from next week, it is expected that families of three households will be allowed to gather to celebrate over the Christmas period.

Retail, gyms, hairdressing, and personal services will open first, with Mr Varadkar saying it will be "haircuts and shopping before nights out".

However, speaking at a meeting of his parliamentary party on Wednesday night, the Tánaiste suggested that there are now question marks around whether the public should be travelling across the border.

However, this was dismissed by his Fianna Fáil coalition partners. 

"There is no talk or no plans for that at the moment," said a spokesperson for the Taoiseach. "There has never been a ban on North-South travel, nor will there be."

It is understood that Mr Varadkar has written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly raising concerns around the level of Covid in the North and has asked for data on this.

A spokesperson for Mr Donnelly on Wednesday night said the epidemiological situation in the North is a concern.

"The more aligned the approach to preventing the spread of Covid-19 taken North and South, the better," said the spokesperson. 

There are ongoing close contacts between North and South, including at political, official, and healthcare levels.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said level 5 restrictions have worked but reopening hospitality is difficult and will be a risk.

Mr Martin told a meeting of his parliamentary party that the country will move from level 5 to “level 3 with modifications”.

He hopes people will be able to go to Mass and that other religious services will be possible around Christmas.

He also said a strong emphasis will be put on people doing their bit by way of personal responsibility in how they behave in December.

The Taoiseach was confronted by a number of his party colleagues who called for pubs to be allowed to open and for clarity to be given to the hospitality sector.

Mr Varadkar was also pressed on the issue of pubs at his own party's meeting.

He told Fine Gael members that Covid targets set down by Nphet to allow for an easing of restrictions were never accepted by the Government.

Nphet had wanted daily case numbers to reduce to around 100 and the R rate to be 0.5, but Mr Varadkar said the Government is aiming for a slightly higher R rate of less than one.

Mr Varadkar said he is looking forward to next year when people will hopefully regain the personal freedoms that were taken for granted before the pandemic.

A number of members, including minister of state Patrick O'Donovan, Joe Carey, and John Paul Phelan called for the reopening of all pubs and not just those serving food. However, Mr Varadkar said there is a need to be frank with people and if the country opens up case numbers will also go up.

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