Coalition party leaders agree country on track to move out of Level 5

Taoiseach says Government to weigh benefits of visitor restrictions when planning lockdown exit

Taoiseach, Michael Martin pictured during a visit to  Terminal 10 in Dublin Port, which has recently been upgraded with additional inspection rooms and cold storage facilities in preparation for Brexit. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach, Michael Martin pictured during a visit to Terminal 10 in Dublin Port, which has recently been upgraded with additional inspection rooms and cold storage facilities in preparation for Brexit. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

The three Coalition party leaders met on Monday night and agreed that the country is on track to move out of Level 5 restrictions, however sources say no final decisions were made.

Government officials are continuing to work on plans that would see a staged exit from Level 5 restrictions which would effectively be “Level 3 with modifications” including a change later in the month to allow people move from county to county.

Earlier Taoiseach Micheál Martin said restricting visitors to households helped reduce the spread of coronavirus and the Government must “bear that in mind” as it looks to lift Level 5 restrictions.

Mr Martin said the Government will make a decision on either Thursday or Friday on how to exit the six-week lockdown after hearing advice from the State’s National Public Health Emergency Team.

The Cabinet meets on Tuesday to hear the views of Government ministers on lifting the Covid-19 restrictions before the meeting with Nphet.

“Nphet will give its advice but Government will decide how we exit Level 5,” Mr Martin told reporters on a visit to inspect Department of Agriculture post-Brexit border check facilities at Dublin Port.

The Taoiseach said the chairman of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, Prof Brian MacCraith, had told him he hoped to have a strategy on distributing vaccines ready by December 11th.

The Taoiseach said it will require “a national effort” to “get vaccines out properly and safely” with the cooperation from various State agencies once the vaccines come through the safety approvals.

Mr Martin warned that the arrival of vaccines was “not the moment to relax” but rather it was the time “to double down” on efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

This week’s meetings will “work out the exit from Level 5 at the end of this month” which is the Government’s target and objective, he said.

Super-spreader events

Asked about the Government’s deliberations on how to exit the lockdown on December 1st, Mr Martin said it had looked at how the virus spread in August, September and October.

“Super-spreader events” such as gatherings and congregation including events with alcohol have been shown to spread of the virus, he said.

“Ultimately vigilance is key, human behaviour is key,” he said. “What has emerged the restriction of visitors to households seems to have had an impact so we need to bear that in mind as we move through December.”

He acknowledged restrictions on visiting had been “very hard for people.”

“The good news is what you are doing is working. We are managing our hospitals in terms of ICU numbers, in terms of hospitalisation. We have kept our schools open,” he said.

The Taoiseach said the initial strategy of Level 3 restrictions on household mixing followed by Level 5 restrictions “did work and has worked.”

“There has been a narrative around this that I don’t think has been helpful or accurate. It has worked. We brought the numbers well down,” he said.

“Do we want to go lower? Of course we do and we have got another week to get the numbers down.”

Mr Martin also said he expected RTE’s executives to appear before the Oireachtas media committee to discuss Covid-19 social distancing breaches by high-profile presenters at a retirement event.

This would be “the required follow-through,” he said. He repeated his view that the flouting of the guidelines had been “very disappointing” but acknowledged that there have been “genuine apologies from all concerned.”