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Taoiseach says tougher laws to enforce Covid-19 restrictions not needed yet

Leo Varadkar said he does not want people to get fines or convictions during the emergency.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.

The Taoiseach has said he does not think tougher laws will be needed to ensure people comply with Covid-19 restrictions.

Emergency legislation passed in March provides for extensive new powers for gardai to police people’s movements in the context of the emergency and arrest people who fail to comply with their instructions.

However, new regulations have not yet been signed off by the Government.

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Leo Varadkar said people have been compliant with the measures.

“Whether it is people self-isolating for 14 days or obeying the rules around social distancing, I am proud that we as a country have been able to do that by consent,” he said.

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 174 on Monday, with 16 further deaths reported.

There were 370 new confirmed cases, taking the overall total to 5,364.

Mr Varadkar added: “We have regulations on the table that are ready to sign if we need to bring in the kind of enforcement powers that exist in other countries. I don’t want to be in a position where we are criminalising people for going more than two kilometres from their house without an adequate excuse. The last thing I want is people to come out of this emergency with fines and prison sentences and criminal convictions.

“I know that is the approach in other countries – I don’t think that is our way.

“I think we can achieve what needs to be achieved by consent and the public being on board. That has been the case in the vast majority of scenarios.

“We can bring in tougher laws and they are ready to be signed if we need to. I don’t want to do that just yet unless the Garda commissioner feels it is absolutely necessary.”

Mr Varadkar said the Government is working on childcare for healthcare workers during the emergency, but it needs to be cleared by the public health team.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

He said: “There are essential workers in the economy and in the health service who are struggling and want to get to work but can’t because childcare is not available to them. A number of proposals are being worked up and it is taking much longer than we would have liked. I understand people’s frustrations – public health has to be the number one concern.

“While we are ready to push the button in terms of providing childcare for essential workers, we need clearance from the public health team and that it in itself does not become a public health risk or allow the virus to be spread. It is now an issue of public health clearance and we have not got that yet.”

Mr Vardakar has said he will be working as a doctor one day per week for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency.

He said he has already completed one shift as a doctor to assist with contact tracing. He revealed on Sunday that he rejoined the medical register in March and is setting aside one day per week to help with the fight against Covid-19.

“So far it has just been a telephone clinic. We will see how it goes but the idea is to set one session aside per week to do that. It is a gesture of support for all of the people who work in our health service and everyone beyond our health service who are contributing to our health service,” he said.

“It also gives me a chance to take the temperature of our health service and to talk at least once a week to people who are working in the health service, see how things are going and to see what challenges they are facing.

“I won’t be giving regular reports on it and there won’t be any photo-ops. It will just be something I am doing quietly once a week for the duration of the emergency.”

Meanwhile, the head of the GP association has said Covid-19 community assessment hubs will keep patients from overburdening the hospital system while being treated by healthcare staff.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered his services by returning to the Medical Register (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered his services by returning to the Medical Register (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered his services by returning to the Medical Register (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Community assessment hubs for Covid-19 will begin accepting their first patients this week.

The Health Service Executive said 12 to 15 of the assessment hubs will be in place by the end of the week.

The hubs provide facilities for people who need to self-isolate, those who are sick and people who are awaiting a test result.

The vice-president of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Dr Nuala O’Connor said the hubs will keep patients from “overburdening the hospital system”.

She said: “We are trying to make sure that as the figures increase that we can make sure not to overburden the emergency rooms and healthcare systems if at all possible.”

A number of private-only consultants have expressed concern about the terms of the new temporary HSE locum contracts.

Last month, the Government announced it had reached agreement with private hospitals across the State to use their facilities for the treatment of both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients.

Some 500 consultants working at these hospitals who currently treat private patients only are to receive temporary HSE locum contracts to cover their work during the health crisis.

In a statement, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, the representative body of consultants working in private hospitals, said that under the proposed terms of these contracts, consulting rooms will be forced to shut to outpatients, for both current and future private outpatients.

Dr Oisin O’Connell, respiratory consultant, said: “The current contractual arrangements proposed by the HSE would result in the withdrawal of private hospital consultants’ ability to provide ongoing care to their existing patients.

“It would equally prevent private patients presenting with new medical issues from being treated.

“Without access to consulting rooms, private patients with urgent and ongoing medical needs will now present for care to emergency departments at acute public hospitals – all of which are already experiencing pressures in managing Covid-19.

“Private-only consultants believe the solution to this issue lies in a contractual arrangement which enables these consultants to meet their obligations under the proposed HSE temporary locum contracts but also permits them to continue to treat their private patients outside of their HSE contract hours.”

PA