‘Green zones’ or regional restrictions could provide path out of pandemic

‘Green zones’ or regional restrictions could provide path out of pandemic

The changing Covid-19 picture has prompted calls for regional or more localised restrictions.

The Government has been urged to forego blanket Level 5 restrictions in favour of local lockdowns in areas with Covid-19 hotspots.

As the April 5 review date for restrictions moves closer, official figures show that Covid-19 is thriving in some counties but has been almost crushed in others.

The latest data shows that infection rates were highest in counties Offaly, Longford, Kildare, Dublin, Meath and Donegal, and lowest in counties Leitrim, Kilkenny, Cork, Kerry and Clare.

Co Leitrim, which has the lowest population of any county, had a five-day average of zero new cases of Covid-19 and recorded just 11 cases in the past two weeks. That  is the lowest number of new cases in any county.

The changing Covid-19 picture has prompted calls for regional or more localised restrictions.

Independent TD Michael Collins said counties such as Cork and Kerry which have the third and fourth lowest infection rates nationally, should be rewarded for reducing infection levels and that the 5km travel limit should be eased as it is “too severe” for people living in rural areas.

“I think the restrictions should apply countywide and that strict restrictions should not apply where there is little or no Covid cases,” he said.

“We have to open the country at some stage and there is an opportunity in early April for the Taoiseach to make a decision to allow counties with low levels of infection to reopen and other counties with high rates to continue with restrictions until the numbers fall in those counties,” he said.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said local and regional approaches should be considered as conditions improve and the vaccine is rolled out.

“We saw how regional approaches were taken over the summer, and the approaches that recognise 5km in Dublin or Cork City is very different to 5km in Beara or on the Mizen,” Ms Cairns said.

“It would be encouraging and useful for people if they had a number that we were all working towards that would see an easing of restrictions in our area. Instead, the Government is just giving people arbitrary dates and leaks of information,” she said.

Dr Aoife McLysaght, a member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group, said green zones could provide a pathway out of the  pandemic by allowing the phased reopening of communities.

“The best way to protect a green zone is to have other green zones around it, so essentially you will have these green zones that will grow and merge until most of the country moves to a green zone,” she said.

Rather than countywide restrictions, the Smurfit Institute of Genetics professor said the country could be carved up into commuter regions that would be more in line with how people travel and live.

While there are concerns that the number of Covid-19 infections may be rising, she said that some parts of the country are doing well and that it is time for the Government to devise a strategy so that the country can begin to “step out” of the current restrictions.

“There is no stepping out of this until everybody is vaccinated, which could be the end of the year,” Dr McLysaght said. "We need to have some steps out of this.”

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