Daniel McConnell: Depressing vista ahead as restrictions mount

After a torturous 2020, there is much pain ahead and virtually no guarantee that the painful medicine being inflicted upon us will work
Daniel McConnell: Depressing vista ahead as restrictions mount

There was a sneaky kicker in the press conference from the leaders in that even with the vaccine, there is no guarantee when the limitations on personal freedoms will be lifted. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger

That’s it, forget summer holidays and perhaps even Christmas getaways.

After a torturous 2020, there is more pain ahead and few guarantees the Government's medicine will work.

Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar, Eamon Ryan and Stephen Donnelly spent 80 minutes answering queries on the latest measures to control Covid-19, but many questions remain. 

Public opinion has forced the Cabinet to introduce a quarantine plan, but it is clear the plan, as announced, is wafer-thin, not fully thought-out and weeks away from being ready.

Micheál Martin confirmed that level 5 lockdown restrictions will remain in place until March 5, at the earliest, but conceded there were "no guarantees" that March 5 will be the end date. 

"There are no guarantees about anything,” he said.

"Government has decided to extend all of the current level 5 restrictions until March 5, with a view to crushing the numbers of those contracting the disease and, in turn, the numbers needing hospitalisation and ICU. 

"The message to people for the next six weeks is very simple: stay at home, do not travel,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar stated new quarantine bans could be in place for at least a year, thereby placing summer holidays and Christmas holidays in jeopardy.

What is also clear is that there is no unanimity at Cabinet as to what has been announced.

The Cabinet meeting lasted for four hours, with the Covid-19 restrictions dominating the agenda, a clear sign all was not well.

Several ministers at Cabinet made clear they would like the restrictions regime to have gone further and have expressed concern about the length of time it will take to bring the quarantine system into operation.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Government sources said ministers Simon Harris, Catherine Martin and chief whip Jack Chambers made it clear they felt the proposed changes do not go far enough.

It is clear that primary legislation will be needed to give effect to plans to introduce a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days for those travelling in from Brazil and South Africa.

There were also questions as to how the gardaí will police people having to quarantine from home.

Details will be clarified in the coming days, we were told, but specifics were in short supply.

The dissenting ministers reportedly made the point that the new variant strains of the virus are not simply limited to the countries they are named after, questioning the likely effectiveness of the measures.

There is also concern that health minister Stephen Donnelly has been charged with introducing the quarantine system at a time when he is already under pressure over the delays in the vaccine roll-out.

Another source said that, as of now, no hotels have yet been taken over and combined with the need for legislation, the new quarantine system is several weeks away from coming on stream.

There was a sense, according to some in Government, that the Cabinet is being dragged along by public opinion and “we are making it up as we go along”.

For his part, Mr Donnelly was put under pressure about the delays in rolling out the vaccines and insisted the stated timescale for vaccine rollout has “broadly been met”.

Given the omnishambles facing the country, there have been increased calls for the Government to adopt a zero-Covid strategy, but Mr Martin made clear it is “not possible or sustainable”.

Micheál Martin said any re-opening of the country will be done 'very cautiously' given the highly virulent nature of the new strains of Covid-19. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Micheál Martin said any re-opening of the country will be done 'very cautiously' given the highly virulent nature of the new strains of Covid-19. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

We are not New Zealand and given the border with Northern Ireland which can’t be sealed, eradicating the virus is not possible.

So what is the plan?

Mr Martin said any re-opening of the country will be done “very cautiously” given the highly virulent nature of the new strains of Covid-19.

We are looking at many months of enhanced restrictions and we have no visibility as to when normality, as we knew it in 2019, will return.

And then, there was a kicker in the press conference from the leaders — even with the vaccine, there is no guarantee when the limitations on personal freedoms will be lifted.

Public confidence in the Government’s handling on all of this is under strain and as one minister warned yesterday: “This is not going to end well.”

 

 

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