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Cabinet overruled health officials' advice to keep cocooning

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Minister Simon Coveney said plan would be ‘hard to sell’

Minister Simon Coveney said plan would be ‘hard to sell’

Minister Simon Coveney said plan would be ‘hard to sell’

Health officials advised that over-70s should keep cocooning in their homes until August, but were overruled by the Cabinet.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended cocooning for older and vulnerable people should remain in place for the next four months in the original draft of the road map for re-opening the country.

However, after a cabinet debate, ministers decided to remove the recommendation from the Government's Road Map for Reopening Society and Business.

The revelation comes as over-70s are today allowed to leave their homes once a day to exercise.

Last Friday, ministers were presented with plans for reducing social distancing by Nphet, the emergency response team chaired by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.

The framework document set out five phases for easing restrictions introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19.

In phase five, which the Government decided will start on August 10, Nphet recommended the continuance of "cocooning of over-70s and the extremely medically vulnerable until the later phases due to a higher risk".

However, during a cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe raised concerns about the recommendation.

He was supported by Tanaiste Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan and Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Anger

Mr Coveney said the document would be "hard to sell" to older people who have been asked to cocoon in their homes for the past three weeks.

There was concern that the reference to older people being asked to continue to cocoon in the final phase of the road map would anger those who have been asked to stay in their homes.

Ministers also said the recommendation was confusing, as phase two advises an easing of restrictions for over-70s, which will see them allowed to visit family and go shopping at certain times in June.

It was also noted that the document makes reference to World Health Organisation guidance that recommends "cocooning measures for the over-70s and for those in at-risk groups be continued".

Ministers felt this was a more appropriate way of addressing cocooning rather than mentioning it directly in the final stages of the road map.

"It was already in the document and didn't need to be stated like that because cocooning is something that can evolve over time, so you couldn't be so definitive about it," a cabinet source said.

The meeting also heard that Health Minister Simon Harris is required to bring a report to the Cabinet before progressing between phases, and this will directly address the impact of the easing of measures on older people

After some debate, ministers agreed to remove the reference to older people cocooning in the final phase of the plan.

Department of the Taoiseach officials are said to have raised similar concerns.

"Nphet is fine with it, it was seen as more of a textual change than a substantive change," a government source said.

Last week, Dr Holohan described the cocooning measures as "draconian" and said the plight of older people was at the "top of our minds".

"We'll give ongoing consideration to these people in vulnerable groups for whom the most difficult measures are continuing," he said.