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'Hugs with grandkids could be allowed by the summer', says Leo

 

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited a contact-tracing centre in Dublin. Photo: Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited a contact-tracing centre in Dublin. Photo: Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited a contact-tracing centre in Dublin. Photo: Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said grandparents may be able to see and hug their grandchildren over the summer as part of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Varadkar said relaxing guidance for grandparents will not form part of the first phase of restrictions being lifted next week, but would be discussed.

He said he was conscious that some grandparents had not yet met their newborn grandchild.

The Taoiseach's comments raise the prospect of some over-70s being allowed to do more than is currently envisioned in the roadmap for reopening the country.

"Of course everybody wants grandparents to be able to hug their grandchildren again and I know some grandparents who have yet to see and meet and hold their newborn grandchild and you can imagine how they must feel now," he said.

"So, you know, I think those things, assuming everything else goes in the right direction, will be possible over the course of the summer, but won't be among the actions that we'll be announcing on Monday."

Mr Varadkar said there was now emerging evidence that allowing children back to school and childcare would be among the safest things to do.

Safest

He cited a conversation he and Health Minister Simon Harris had with Dr Mike Ryan, of the World Health Organisation, and a report from the Hiqa published yesterday.

"[They] were very much of the view that the emerging evidence is that among the safest things that we can do over the next couple of months is to reopen our schools, to reopen our childcare facilities to allow children to return to education and return to normal life," he said.

Mr Varadkar said it would not reflect well on Ireland if it was the last country to reopen schools and childcare facilities.

"But we need to make sure we do it safely and work with the education sector and childcare sector," he added.

He said it was "encouraging" and "very significant" that evidence was showing that children and young people were the least at risk from the virus and "don't appear to be super-spreaders".

Mr Varadkar said it would be "all the more important" for people to exercise personal responsibility and discipline as restrictions are eased.

"We will be meeting each other more. Because more people will be going to work, the chances the virus has to replicate and spread increases and that means higher risk of cases, a higher risk of more clusters," he said.

"The best way we can avoid that is by doing and abiding by that really common sense public health advice."

He said this includes listening to advice expected within days on face coverings and that these should be used by the public in situations where social distancing is "very difficult or impossible", such as on public transport or in confined indoor spaces, as well as regular hand-washing, keeping a distance of two metres and good cough and sneeze etiquette.

Responding to the European Commission's plan to restart travel and tourism across the continent, he said it would be "months" before air travel for business and leisure returned.

"We're an island nation, we're a globalised economy. We need to return to business and leisure travel at some point, but that really is premature at this stage," he added.

Advice

"So it makes sense that the European Union and the aviation authorities are thinking about that, thinking about how we can return to safe air travel in the future.

"I hope it'll be this year, but it's certainly going to be months rather than weeks."

Mr Varadkar said the "very strong advice" from the Government was that anyone entering the country needs to quarantine, with the exception of certain key workers.

Mr Varadkar said people whose flights had been cancelled as a result of the pandemic were entitled to a cash refund, but he understood why airlines and travel operators are offering vouchers as they attempt to stave off closure.

"We do want to assure people that no matter what happens, even if those companies go bust, they will get the cash in the end if they need it," he said.

The European Commission said yesterday airlines must give passengers refunds for cancelled flights and cannot force them to accept vouchers.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at a contact-tracing centre in Dublin where officials are working to trace people who may have come into contact with someone infected with Covid-19.

A "robust" testing and contact-tracing system was needed as the country started to reopen, he said. The HSE is due to publish a plan for testing and contact tracing today, with Mr Varadkar saying the agency had done a "phenomenal job" so far.

He added that the Government wanted to be in a position where in the vast majority of cases the test result was available within 72 hours.