Filling nursing home gaps ‘challenging’, says Minister

Government launches initiative aimed at promoting mental health during lockdown

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that a general failure to adhere to the current Covid-19 restrictions could result in the Government having to extend the measures beyond May 5th. Video: RTÉ

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it has been difficult to put into operation some of the supports pledged to the nursing home sector to help it deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris defended the Government’s approach, with Mr Harris saying it is “challenging” to “get people to volunteer, and I don’t mean that in a bad way”.

The pair were speaking, along with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and others, on Friday at a Government press conference to mark a mental health initiative to help the public through the coronavirus crisis.

The “In This Together” campaign encourages people to pick a new activity that could help them to feel healthier or better as the State deals with Covid-19, with information being posted at and on local authority websites.

Mr Varadkar said: “I understand that people are anxious and they are worried. Above all, we all need to look after ourselves, whether you’re an older person cocooning at home, working at home or laid off during the emergency.

“We all need to stay physically active, stay connected with friends and family, and look after our mental health.”

The programme includes a “Let’s Play” initiative to encourage playtime for children and families, gardening tips ahead of a “virtual Bloom day” showcasing people’s efforts, and an online Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, for which TG4 is partnering with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Thousands of ebooks and e-audiobooks will also be made available, as well as online classes in dance, meditation and other activities. The In This Together initiative also draws together advice and support on parenting, mental wellbeing and preparing for Leaving Cert exams, among other things.

In terms of his own mental health, Mr Varadkar said he was “definitely missing the gym”.

“But I’m still managing to get some exercise, pretty much every day, and that really helps. And staying in touch with friends by Skype and Houseparty and all these new apps that I am learning to use.” He said he was taking part in an online quiz with friends on Thursday night.

Mr Harris said: “For me, certainly, when I see my baby daughter in the evening, she doesn’t care whether there is a global pandemic on or not if there is a nappy to be changed or a bottle to be fed. So basic things like that, I think, remind us of the important things in life, including staying connected with our families.”

Ms Zappone said she was taking part in Zoom calls with “wine, tea or Heineken zero”. She was also walking a lot and, since she lived in the country, had “gate talk” with her neighbours every once in a while.

Mr Varadkar said the Government hoped to be in a position to lift some of the restrictions to deal with Covid-19 when the current phase of lockdown ends on May 5th. He confirmed he would announce an exit plan in advance of that date.