Taoiseach: Following new Covid-19 measures will offer ‘respite’ at Christmas
Government had to weigh up Nphet advice against impact on economy and society
Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘There are no laws or powers that can change the nature of the virus.’ Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said if people “pulled together over the next six weeks we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way”.
Speaking as he announced a move to Level 5 restrictions until December 1st in the fight against Covid-19 he said: “If we all pull together, and follow the spirit of these new rules, it [Christmas] will be a very special time, and give us all some respite from the hardship of the last seven months.”
Covid-19 infections were on the rise across Europe and much of the rest of the world, he said in a televised address.
“The reality of this terrible disease is that when we give it an opportunity to spread, it spreads, and when it spreads, it consumes large parts of our daily lives, and whole sections of the economy.”
The Taoiseach said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet)had been very clear about what it believed should be done, but the Government had to weigh up that advice, given the impact that increased restrictions had on society and the economy.
Severe restrictions affect mental well-being, the capacity to treat non-Covid illness. They create unemployment and loss of income for families, and social impacts such as increased domestic violence, he said.
Having given the matter careful thought, he said, the Government has decided that the evidence of a potentially grave situation in the weeks ahead is now too strong, and therefore for a period of six weeks from midnight on Wednesday, the entire country is to go to Level 5.
‘Take this threat seriously’
The Government cannot solve the crisis on its own, he said. “There are no laws or powers that can change the nature of the virus.”
“Many people have done everything that has been asked of them, but some have not. As Taoiseach, I’m asking everyone again to take this threat seriously.”
Some people, serious and well-intentioned people, argue that the country should be locked down, the borders sealed, and the virus eliminated, and the infection rate then maintained at zero.
However given our geographic location, proximity to Britain and Europe, and the existence of two jurisdictions on the island, it was the advice of Nphet, and the view of the Government, that “this is not a realistic option.”
He said others argue for a “herd immunity” approach, but this implies that we should accept higher levels of illness and death. “The government will not be taking this approach.”
It was his firm belief that the core responsibility of government was to protect lives and protect the public health, while also protecting livelihoods and supporting the wider economy and society.
“This is what we will continue to do. We work to suppress the virus when it is growing, and we work to reopen as much of our economy and society as possible when it is safe to do so.”
“Until we have a safe vaccine, we must continue in that pattern. This is the reality for the rest of the world, and it is unfortunately the reality here.”
The Taoiseach said restrictions had served to slow the growth of the virus but as the daily figures had shown, they had not significantly reduced the spread of the virus. So further action was now required.
He said schools and childcare are to remain open. “We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease. They need their education.”
The Government will provide increased financial support for individuals and businesses, he said.
For those in danger of social isolation, the Government is introducing the concept of a support bubble, where such households can pair with another as part of a support bubble.
But everyone else is being asked to stay at home, other than going out for exercise within a five km radius of their homes.
There are to be no social or family gatherings in homes or gardens, and restaurants, cafes and bars, are to open for takeaway service only.
Weddings can still have up to 25 guests, and essential retail can remain open. “Those who can work from home must do so.”
Construction work is being deemed essential, and most manufacturing will remain open, he said.
“If each of us does what is asked of us, for a period of just six weeks, we will suppress this virus, and we will emerge from these restrictions on the first of December,” he said.
The Irish people were stronger than they realised, and more resilient than they could imagine, he said. “Our future is in our hands. We must each dig deep within ourselves.”
We will come through this together, the Taoiseach said.