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Govt preparing plan on reopening economy, society – Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Government is preparing a plan to set out the steps to reopen the Irish economy and society.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, Mr Varadkar said that the plan will be shared with the public before 5 May but cautioned that it will not be done in “one fell swoop”.

“There won’t be any change to the restrictions until 5 May, but at the moment we are preparing a plan which we’ll have ready before then which will set out in a step-wise fashion, how we will reopen our economy, how we will reopen our society,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that this will not be done in “one fell swoop”, and that the steps will be taken every two to three weeks. He said that reviews of the steps will also be taken.

Mr Varadkar said the plan to reopen parts of the economy and society is not finalised yet, but the plan is to open areas first that have the most benefit to society but the least risks in public health terms.

However, he warned that some countries have had to backtrack on measures, and reimpose restrictions and “we need to bear that in mind”.

In order for an restrictions to be lifted, Mr Varadkar said that three issues have to be looked at.

These include assessing if the rate of increase in the virus is improving; will hospitals have the capacity to deal with any surge if things go wrong; is there testing and contact tracing in place.

Mr Varadkar said that Ireland is looking towards other countries such as Germany and Denmark to learn from them in terms of reopening places.

He said he is encouraging people in society and business, if they are told it is possible to reopen, they must look at how you can do it with social distancing.

He said we have to adopt this new norm of social distancing which could be with us “for a very long time”.

Mr Varadkar said it is difficult to know for sure how Ireland is doing in the fight against Covid-19, but said if we are not at the peak we are certainly near the peak.

He said today is another sad day for Ireland with 44 more deaths due to the virus. He said the people who have lost their lives to Covid-19 are not statistics but people with stories.

A lot of people are finding it difficult, he said, but he said we are going to get through this.

Mr Varadkar said we know now that there are more people in Ireland that have recovered from coronavirus than who have it.

He said the country is still seeing quite a high death toll and he hopes that that and other indicators fall.

When looking back on this in six months or a year’s time, he said we will come to the conclusion that there are some things we could have done better, sooner or things we didn’t need to do at all.

The Taoiseach said he is sure that people staying at home is making the difference. He also said that compared to other countries, Ireland is faring better.

In relation to the crisis at nursing homes, Mr Varadkar said that in the memo from day one vulnerable populations was an issue “and it was never a case of prioritising one thing over another”.

However, he said he regrets that they could not do more sooner. Mr Varadkar said in particular he regrets they could not do more testing.

“It was a real shame we could not do that sooner. But that was out of our control. There was a major backlog in tests and we had to prioritise as the WHO [World Health Organization] said those with symptoms first,” he said.

Mr Varadkar, said the coronavirus has been suppressed in the community and the hospitals are protected from being overwhelmed which allows them now to look at areas on the frontline including nursing homes and residential centres.

He said with what they are doing around nursing homes now, including the provision of PPE, “we hope that will reduce the death toll”.

He said the issue with trying to stop the spread of Covid-19 in nursing homes is that it is like a “big household”. “A nursing home, a care home is essentially a big household,” he said.

In relation to childcare, Mr Varadkar said he acknowledged the problem for so many healthcare workers and said they do “want to resolve it”.

Last month, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation urged the Government to act immediately to deliver childcare for health service workers to enable them to attend work and treat patients affected by Covid-19.

Mr Varadkar said a proposal has been developed by Government where childcare workers go into the home and mind the children of healthcare workers, but they need to get clearance from NPHET on this.

He said while this comes with risks of people coming into the home and mixing households, the risk of not doing it means we could lose the risk of the healthcare worker being at work.

He said they are waiting for clearance from NPHET on this proposal and if they clear it, they will be able to act on it within days or weeks. “If they don’t we can’t unfortunately,” he said.

The Taoiseach also said paying the wages of all the unemployed workers is sustainable as long as Ireland can borrow at affordable rates.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has estimated that the total cost of State income and wage supports in place to help those out of work or in danger of losing their jobs during the Covid-19 crisis could reach up to €4.5bn over three months.

Mr Varadkar said the current situation is like having flashbacks to ten years ago, however he said that as long as we have confidence of the European institutions, the bond markets, the financial markets, and borrow at low affordable rates “we can keep doing this”.

Mr Varadkar said it is important to maintain that confidence from the markets and institutions, and that Ireland’s reputation and credit rating was restored in recent years and we need to maintain that to continue to borrow.

He said we need to borrow for a number of years ahead and to sustain the economy.

From RTE News.