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'People need a chink of light' - TDs call for easing of rules

  • We’re not there yet’, says Leo as case numbers still too high

  • Counties with low numbers of virus cases 'could be a test bed'

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE chief Paul Reid with medical staff at a community assessment hub in DCU

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE chief Paul Reid with medical staff at a community assessment hub in DCU

PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE chief Paul Reid with medical staff at a community assessment hub in DCU

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has faced calls to lift social distancing restrictions from opposition leaders as the country prepares for the next phase of the lockdown.

During a teleconference call, Mr Varadkar was urged to ease rules around funerals and allow some construction workers to get back to work.

He was also asked to lift the restrictions in counties where Covid-19 infection and death rates are low.

Political leaders attending the meeting said Mr Varadkar "kept his cards close to his chest" and did not give details of the lockdown measures he is expected to announce before the bank holiday weekend.

Roadmap

Ahead of the meeting, the Taoiseach said he believed there was still too many deaths and new cases of the virus to consider lifting most restrictions.

"Maybe it will change significantly by Friday, but as things stand, I don't think we're there yet," he said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet tomorrow to decide if the roadmap for lifting restrictions should begin after the weekend or in two weeks' time.

During the teleconference with the Taoiseach, party leaders and Independent TDs said the public needed to be given a "chink of light" after six weeks of lockdown.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Government should examine whether measures around funerals could be addressed to allow more people to attend ceremonies.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly also suggested some restrictions should be lifted.

Aontu leader Peadar Toibin called for small-scale construction workers, such as painters and landscapers, to be allowed to return to work.

Independent TD Denis Naughten also said construction work should return and also called for restrictions to be lifted in counties where there are low numbers of cases.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Naughten said: "It makes no sense that parts of the country with low rates of Covid-19 infection should remain in lockdown to the same extent as areas where there is a significant problem."

He said areas where restrictions are lifted could be a "test bed" for the future relaxation of measures in cities.

Mr Naughten raised the proposal directly with the Taoiseach and chief medical officer Tony Holohan. Sources at the meeting said Mr Varadkar and Mr Holohan seemed to be open to the proposal.

Earlier, Junior Minister John Halligan said there was a "case for discussion" in easing lockdown on a regional basis.

Mr Halligan said infection rates are low in counties such as his home town of Waterford, which has around 160 coronavirus cases.

He said there is a "case to be made" in easing restrictions in various counties, adding that Dublin has some of the highest infection rates.

"If you look at the University Hospital Waterford, we have seven in hospital, two in intensive and about 160 cases," he said.

"So there's a case for that discussion to take place, I'm not a medical expert, so I wouldn't dare say that's what we should do."

During the meeting with the Taoiseach, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said restrictions should only be eased if they are to be lifted for good.

"She said there was no point in lifting them if they were going to be brought back in a week or two," a source said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin raised concerns about social distancing measures being used in meat processing factories.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath highlighted the issue of members of the Travelling community coming to Ireland for funerals and congregating in large numbers.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach said the wearing of face-coverings on public transport or in enclosed indoor spaces may be advised by the Government later this week.

Cautioned

However, he said he does not think it will be made compulsory, as the scientific community is divided on the issue.

Mr Varadkar was speaking after visiting a Covid-19 community assessment centre in Dublin City University, where he also cautioned that the number of cases of the disease is still too high for the easing of restrictions.

He said this may change by tomorrow, and he understands people are "enormously frustrated".

The Scottish government has advised its citizens to wear face masks in shops and on public transport.

Mr Varadkar said he would use the term "face-coverings", as masks should be reserved for healthcare staff.

He said advising people to wear them is under consideration at the moment.


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