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Government’s plan for exiting lockdown not ‘set in stone’

Micheal Martin said the Government is taking a ‘conservative’ approach.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin during a media briefing (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin during a media briefing (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin during a media briefing (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

The Taoiseach said the plan for exiting the country’s lockdown is not “set in stone”, as he denied claims the Government is confusing the public.

Micheal Martin said the Government is taking a “conservative” approach in easing health restrictions over the coming months.

Asked whether there will be a nine-week extension of lockdown measures, Mr Martin said the Government will be “very cautious” in its decisions.

He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team has given advice to the Cabinet sub-committee and urged caution in reopening society and the economy.

“The emphasis on the prioritisation right now is on schools, particularly the early years and then the Leaving Certificate cohort and childcare,” Mr Martin said on Friday.

“We will review it in a monthly basis and the vaccine rollout may have an impact. We are beginning to see a reduction in the number of healthcare workers getting the virus and the outbreaks are coming down.

“The authorities are saying there is evidence of the impact of the vaccination programme already, in terms it is reducing mortality.”

Mr Martin said the Government’s messaging has not been confusing.

He said he has previously warned of plans that it is pursuing a prolonged suppression of the virus in a bid to get numbers down.

“Nphet’s advice is that they are somewhat concerned that the decline is slowing down,” Mr Martin added.

“People of Ireland have been remarkable in their adherence to the guidance.

“Nhpet are saying they want to monitor each step. For example, when we open schools in a fortnight, they want to evaluate what impact did that have on the R number and the spread of disease.

“That analysis will inform the next step, so Nphet are saying to us, that beyond a certain timeframe they don’t want to predict that.”

Around 90% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland are associated to the B117 variant.

The HSE has also wanted that it is having severe effects on hospital patients.

Mr Martin also said there will be no large-scale reopening of construction.

Meanwhile, the Tanaiste said that schools and childcare will reopen on a phased basis next month after Ireland’s health experts gave the green light to Government.

Advice from the Nphet was that pupils could return to classrooms during March and through to the Easter break.

Leo Varadkar sounded a warning that the reopening of any other parts of society or the economy could jeopardise the reopening of the education sector.

He appealed to the public to “dig deep” for a few more weeks.

“We are on the right track again – cases, hospitalisations, ICUs numbers are all falling,” he told RTE News At One.

“But they’re still high, they’re almost as high as they were at the peak of the first wave and that’s why we need to proceed with caution, particularly with the B117 variant dominant in the country.

“We got advice from Nphet yesterday – their advice is we can open schools and childcare on a phased basis over the course of March and through to the Easter break.

“We are asking people to dig deep for a few more weeks.

“We will see three really good things in March, first is the return of kids to school and childcare all across Ireland, the second is the vaccine programme being ramped up.”

He said that 80,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered this week, with a further 100,000 doses expected next week.

Mr Varadkar added that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said that Government can now prioritise some of the under 70s group who have underlying medical conditions.

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A man walks past a sign for a vaccination centre at DCU on Collins Avenue in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

A man walks past a sign for a vaccination centre at DCU on Collins Avenue in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

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A man walks past a sign for a vaccination centre at DCU on Collins Avenue in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We are also going to see hospitals relieved of pressure throughout the course of March,” he added.

Mr Varadkar also denied that Martin said that Level 5 restrictions would last until May.

Mr Martin told the Irish Mirror in an interview on Thursday that “severe” lockdown measures will be in place until the end of April.

Mr Varadkar said on Friday: “What the Taoiseach said last night is that we are facing into tough restrictions into April and that’s correct.

“He didn’t say that we will have Level 5 lockdown for nine weeks or that it’s going to go on until May.”

An additional 28 people have died with Covid-19 in Ireland.

Another 763 infections were confirmed.

A total of 151 people were in hospital intensive care units on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach to hold a Cabinet meeting this weekend and provide clarity on the extension of lockdown restrictions.

She said it was “not acceptable” that Irish people were facing more speculation and uncertainty.

“Not only have we had leaks and contradictions and headlines in the newspapers, now we face into another weekend of more speculation and more uncertainty, and that is just really, really unfair,” she said.

“It’s a really unfair way for this Government to behave and it is unacceptable.”

She added: “My own view is Cabinet should meet at the weekend and the Taoiseach should come out and set the record straight: state very clearly and directly to the Irish people what is happening, what is the plan and bring to an end the spin, the leaks and the uncertainty.”

The Sinn Fein leader was critical of the Taoiseach’s decision to make the announcement about ongoing restrictions to the newspaper on Thursday.

Mr Martin told the Irish Mirror in an interview on Thursday that “severe” lockdown measures will be in place until the end of April.

Ms McDonald said it had caused people “huge anger, stress and, in some cases, despair”.

“What people see is not just a difficult set of circumstances because of this pandemic and this virus, but they see a Government that is at sixes and sevens, that dithers, that leaks, that speculates and that is built more on rivalry than any sort of purpose,” she said.

“That’s not good enough.”

PA


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