Ireland facing ‘watershed moment’ in bid to avoid further restrictions, says Harris

Minister says adherence to guidelines may offer ‘chance of a Christmas, although it might be a different one’

Businesses will need to show more leadership by allowing employees to work from home wherever possible, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times

Businesses will need to show more leadership by allowing employees to work from home wherever possible, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times

 

The country is facing a “watershed moment” which will determine if further restrictions will be needed to contain the spread of coronavirus, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said.

He said that if wider society plays its part in adhering to new guidelines, we will “have a chance of having a Christmas, although it might be a different one”.

The Government announced on Wednesday night a nationwide ban on visits to homes or gardens in almost all circumstances, except for providing care to children or elderly and vulnerable people.

It has also announced that Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal will move to Level 4 of the Government’s Living with Covid plan from midnight on Thursday until November 10th.

Mr Harris, a former minister for health, said he hoped that the enhanced measures would have an impact on the rising levels of transmissions.

Businesses will need to show more leadership by allowing employees to work from home wherever possible, he said.

Traffic levels have picked up significantly, but he said we need to get back to a point where as few workers as possible need to commute to work.

In addition, it was vital that everyone plays a part in cutting out home visits, except for compassionate or caring purposes.

“We have to recognise the reality that this virus spreads when we visit each others’ homes . . . when we visit friends and family, we can tend to let our guard down. We can feel we’re not at risk to each other, but that’s not the case,” he said.

He pointed out that more than 3,000 out of the 4,000-plus outbreaks of Covid-19 in recent weeks were in private homes.

Mr Harris clarified that workers such as electricians or plumbers will be allowed to visit homes for work purposes, but said common sense should apply and householders should keep their distance from workers.

He also said all of society needs to redouble its efforts in wearing facemasks and using them properly.

“We all need to make that big, collective push . . . People in this country always want to do right, not necessarily by the government, but by their family. When the message is simple and crisp, they respond - and it is,” he said.

“What’s the prize? Keeping people alive, ensuring our hospitals are not overwhelmed and that businesses continue to operate . . . And the big prize is having a Christmas and being able to see family and friends.”

Anti-mask protesters

When questioned about whether arrests should be made for anti-mask protesters, he said he was very concerned about the activity of the far-right in spreading misinformation which affects public health.

He said a demonstration involving some protesters outside the Criminal Court of Justice on Wednesday was “grotesque and obscene”.

While it was a small number of people, he said these kinds of protests often started off small.

In relation to higher education, he said students should seek to limit their movements between college and home by using their “common sense”.

He asked that students should seek to base themselves primarily either in college accommodation or at home, and to try to reduce back and forth movement.