Daniel McConnell: New government plan will manage the 'acceptable risk' of living with Covid

Daniel McConnell: New government plan will manage the 'acceptable risk' of living with Covid

Taoiseach Micheál Martin plans to allow shuttered sections of society to reopen under the new plan. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

In a week’s time, the government intends to publish its plan as to how they envisage the country will live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future.

The new normal.

Nothing or very little will be what it was like before but what is clear, seven days out from its publication, there is a discernible desire from Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his ministers to allow mothballed sections of our society to re-open.

After nine weeks of chaos and confusion from the new government and the lapsing of the previous roadmap, the new plan is overdue and badly needed.

With no deaths in Ireland for over two weeks from Covid-19, hospitalisations and ICU cases remaining low even with the schools back, there is a growing anger that our daily focus on new cases is missing the real target and as a result, the continued closures are disproportionate.

While the new plan, driven by the Department of Health and the Department of Taoiseach, is taking input from many departments, it is in essence about three key areas – restoring travel, opening pubs and the future of sporting and cultural events.

Government keen to expand green list and ease two-week quarantine rules 

In terms of travel, what is clear is the Government wants to axe the two-week quarantine for those coming from some foreign countries, but particularly the UK.

Several government sources have pointed to tests being carried out at Heathrow airport which involve the rapid Covid testing of passengers who, if introduced here, would pay for the privilege.

“A lot of attention is on the Heathrow testing. If a viable model can be found, it would be a huge game-changer not just for travel within the EU, but especially between here and the UK,” said a government source.

There have also been question marks raised about the viability of the so-called ‘green list’ given the increase in our transmission rate.

“When the green list was introduced our transmission rate was much lower. The list operated on allowing countries with a rate similar or lower to ours come here. But there is no way we can do that now,” said the source.

It is expected that an easing of the rules around international travel, specifically the requirement to restrict movement for 14 days, will be contained in this plan with Green leader Eamon Ryan stating that it would contain "a planned approach allowing for connectivity".

Mr Ryan has ordered his officials to look at how other countries are now handling people who come from abroad when drawing up a new set of guidelines.

The government is keen to broaden the number of countries on the green list and ease quarantining rules, but these changes will also have to take in advice from public health officials and other Departments.

It is understood that the new plan will focus on the next 12 to 18 months and will contain provisions to "flex up and down".

"It will have to respond in different ways to different circumstances at different times. They will be looking at the green list for sure," a Government source said.

"There are a lot of different things to be balanced and that is a challenge."

Sporting events may get green light for controlled crowds while pubs may remain closed until October 

In terms of sporting events, it is expected a limited number of people will be allowed to attend games, providing crowds can be properly controlled, separated and ensure social distancing can be maintained at all stages. Meetings between sporting bodies and ministers have been described as productive.

In relation to wet pubs, several government sources said that weekend suggestions of them opening by mid-September are “overly optimistic” and that it could be October before they are open.

There is a realisation that pubs will lead to clusters and spikes in positive cases. Sources said it is about managing what they called the acceptable risk.

While the plan will include far more than these three areas, they are seen as the most vital aspects of adjusting the country to the idea of living alongside the virus rather than seeking to snuff it out.

While medics are preparing to see increases in the instances of Covid as the country re-opens, the time has come to accept we can no longer strangle the people in order to save them. 

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