Covid-19: Cabinet sub-committee agrees to introduce fines system for rule breakers

Failure to wear face coverings and making non-essential journeys will attract penalty

The entire State this week joined Donegal and Dublin and entered Level 3 on the Government’s five-level coronavirus alert system. File photograph: Douglas Magno/ AFP

The entire State this week joined Donegal and Dublin and entered Level 3 on the Government’s five-level coronavirus alert system. File photograph: Douglas Magno/ AFP

 

The Government is expected to introduce a system of graduated fines before the end of the month for breaches of Covid-19 guidelines including failure to wear face marks, and undertaking non-essential journeys.

The Cabinet Sub-Committee on Covid-19 agreed to endorse the recommendation made by the National Public Health Emergency Team for an on-the-spot fine system for breaches of rules.

No figures were given for the amount of fines but they are expected to be similar to those in the UK which are €70 (£60) for a first offence and higher amounts for subsequent offences.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is not a member of the sub-committee but attended today’s meeting, will now work with officials in their respective departments to produce a memo for Cabinet either next week or the following week. It is expected the new system could be in operation by the end of the month.

The sub-committee is chaired by the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and other members are Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan attended the meeting, as did deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn; HSE chief executive Paul Reid and chief medical officer Dr Colm Henry.

It is understood Dr Holohan informed the committee of continuing exponential growth in the spread of the coronavirus in the State. The rate of cases per 100,000 population has grown from 56 in mid-December to 134 as of the end of this week.

In addition, the number of cases in the vulnerable over-65 age cohort has increased with over 600 cases in the past fortnight.

Hospital admissions

The number of patients in hospitals and in ICU has also increased significantly, as have the number of deaths, while still small compared to the first outbreak in March and April.

Another area of concern highlighted was in nursing homes and care homes where there have been 11 new outbreaks, with seven clusters of more than 20 people.

It is also understood that some 400 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid in the past two weeks, some 80 per cent of them female.

Separately the Cabinet agreed to endorse the European ‘traffic light’ system for international travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is expected to be agreed at a summit meeting in Brussels next week.

The development will mean that international passengers will be able to bypass quarantine requirements if they take PCR tests (and possibly antigen tests) when departing and entering an EU State.

If agreed by Cabinet next Tuesday, passengers arriving from ‘Green’ countries (those with less than 25 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population) will not need to quarantine nor take tests. For those entering and leaving orange or red countries, they will require to take a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) three days before leaving the country.

However, the onus will be on passengers to organise and pay for the tests, which can cost as much as €200 each. That could add €400 to air travel costs making it unaffordable for many people during Covid-19.

There was no discussion at all about extending the mid-term breaks for schools, with Government sources on Friday night strongly talking down the possibility of such an eventuality.

While acknowledging that the matter was mentioned at the Cabinet meeting last Monday, and had also been discussed by Nphet, the sources said there had been no substantive discussion on the issue and the intention, as of now, was to continue with the school calendar, with a one-week break at mid-term.