THE TAOISEACH HAS told the Dáil the government has made proposals to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to bring forward the easing of some restrictions.
He said: “We have made proposals to the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET about bringing things forward from [phases] four and three and three and two.
“NPHET is considering the proposals and Government will make a decision on that on Friday morning and inform the public of the decision on Friday afternoon.”
He said from the outset, he has always said that the roadmap “is a living plan that can be accelerated if we are getting on top of and ahead of the virus”.
However, he added that one thing the government will stick with is the three-week intervals between each phase. They are there for good epidemiological reasons, he said.
“If one relaxes restrictions and the virus spreads, incubates and is tested for and so on it will be at least two weeks before that shows up in the data. We believe we should stick with the three-week intervals,” he said, pointing out that there are differing opinions between the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control as to whether the intervals should be between two and four weeks.
“Three weeks makes sense because we need to know that if we ease restrictions they have not caused the virus to take off again. It is only after two weeks, and into the third week, before we can know that so we will stick with the three-week window – but we can bring measures forward,” he said.
On the government’s proposals to move some things forward, the Taoiseach said NPHET would consider the proposals, and a decision on the matter would be made by Cabinet on Friday morning.
In recent days, there has been speculation that the 20km limit could be lifted earlier than Phase 4. However, yesterday Health Minister Simon Harris was cautious about tinkering with the travel guidelines, saying that there is a reason for the restrictions.
“Some parts of our country haven’t seen a case in weeks and if we all start getting in our cars and travelling there tomorrow” there is a risk of spread, he said.
He said the strategy is based on people keeping close to their home, “and then gradually, gradually” over the course of the summer the distance will increase.
Harris said opening things too fast would risk spreading the virus to other parts of the country. The minister said that Phase 2 looked right to him in its current form.
Speaking on the issue today in the Dáil, the Taoiseach also seemed to pour cold water over the prospect of the lifting of the 20km rule on Monday.
He said he did not agree with people who say the 5km rule or the 20km rule do not make sense.
“If we had not had those rules in place in recent weeks we would have seen people from Dublin and Cork travelling to counties where there are no new cases and there would have been new cases in those counties.
“I totally disagree with people who are arguing that the 20km rule has no scientific basis or is not a good idea. It is a good idea and that is the travel limit that will apply in phase 2,” he said.
‘We are in an absurd situation’
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has spoken out against the travel distance guideline, saying that he does not see the justification for it.
Speaking today in the Dáil, he indicated that travelling within Ireland is now more difficult than travelling abroad.
“We are currently in the absurd situation where it is easier for an Irish person to plan a holiday in much of Europe than it is to plan one here.
“A range of countries this week signalled their intention to be ready to quickly lift travel restrictions and their tourist industries have begun working on the assumption that travel from Ireland will be possible without quarantine before the high-season,” he said.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has also argued for the early lifting of the 20km rule as it would help boost local tourism.
The Taoiseach was also asked about testing being carried out at airports and ports, indicating that passengers would have to pay for a test upon arrival.
“We will examine the issue of Covid-19 testing in airports and ports but it costs €200 a go so the person getting tested will have to pay for it,” he said.
The move would be similar to that in Austria, where if travellers don’t have proof of not being infected by the virus, they can pay €190 for a test at Vienna airport.
Items that are due to be included in Phase 2 are the easing of nursing home visitor restrictions, help for children with special needs, as well as the possibility of some summer camps being given the green light to open.