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Taoiseach says country is not ready to reduce social distancing to one metre

Leo Varadkar said the spread of the virus needs to decrease before the two metre guidance can be reduced.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (PA)

Ireland has not suppressed the spread of Covid-19 enough to reduce social distancing guidelines from two metres to one metre, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar has defended the two metre social distance guideline and said it may be changed if the spread of the virus reduces more in the weeks ahead.

“Before we can relax that rule and maybe reduce it to one metre, which I know a lot of people would like, we just need to see the virus come down a bit more.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

“We’re not at that point yet, but I think there’s a good chance we get there, just not quite yet,” he told FM104.

He said he would like to accelerate the Government’s roadmap for reopening the country, but a judgment call will not be made until next week when there will be more evidence based on how the country fared during the first phase of easing restrictions.

Ahead of the June Bank Holiday weekend he said people should enjoy the sun and meet family in friends out of doors in groups of four.

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People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues.

People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues.

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People on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin, as the warm weather continues.

Photos emerged on social media of a shirtless Mr Varadkar and his partner picnicking with friends in Dublin’s Phoenix Park last Sunday.

Asked if he would go out in the sun this weekend, he said: “I don’t want to give my press officer a heart attack or anything.

“Unfortunately, there are camera phones anywhere there are people these days but that’s the way it is. But you have to live your life. And if you’re afraid of photographs you would never go out.”

Earlier, a health expert said people will have to limit their contacts with other people for a long time into the future despite the pandemic easing.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said all the main indicators of the virus’s prevalence were either “stable or declining”.

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,639 on Thursday after a further nine deaths were announced.

There were 46 new confirmed cases of the disease in Ireland also announced on Thursday, taking the total to 24,841 since the outbreak began.

Speaking to RTE Morning Ireland, Prof Nolan said even as the number of cases declines, people will still need to limit their contacts with other people.

He said: “For a long time into the future, we are going to have to limit our social and physical contacts to what is necessary for our well-being and what is necessary for the economy.

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Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, and Professor Philip Nolan speak during a virus update briefing (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, and Professor Philip Nolan speak during a virus update briefing (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, and Professor Philip Nolan speak during a virus update briefing (Brian Lawless/PA)

“So we will always be thinking about how we limit the number of contacts we have and how we reduce the risk of infection by keeping up hygiene measures and maintaining some level of distance and wearing face coverings where appropriate.”

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will bring a proposal to Cabinet on Friday to ensure mothers returning from maternity leave “are treated fairly” under the wage subsidy scheme.

The Covid-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) pays up to 410 euro per week to an employee of a business that has lost more than 25% of its turnover, on the condition that employers keep those workers on their books.

However, due to an anomaly, women who are returning from unpaid maternity leave and were not on their company’s payroll in January and February are unable to access the subsidy.

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