Coronavirus: 14 more deaths as list of essential workers published by the Government

North introduces sweeping powers; Local authorities to lead supports for people cocooning

Minister for Health Simon Harris says Ireland is seeing “a very concerning situation regarding ICU capacity” and stresses the importance of preventing the spread of Covid-19 by adhering to new restrictions. Video: RTÉ

 

There have been 14 more deaths of people with Covid-19 and 294 new cases, according to new figures released on Saturday.

Meanwhile the Government has published its list of 16 categories of essential workers under the new restrictions, categorised as follows:

  • Agriculture and Fishing
  • Manufacturing
  • Repair and installation of machinery and equipment
  • Electricity, gas and water
  • Construction
  • Wholesale and retail trade
  • Transport storage and communication
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Information and communications
  • Financial and legal activities
  • Professional, scientific and technical activities
  • Rental and leasing activities
  • Administrative and support services
  • Public administration and defence
  • Human health and social work activities
  • Community/voluntary services.

The full list of services the Government deems essential can be found here.

Fianna Fáil had criticised the delay in publishing the list with party spokesman Robert Troy saying it had created “great confusion”.

The National Public Health Emergency Team, reporting the new fatalities in the State said all 14 deaths were in the east of the country. The median age of the reported deaths was 81. There have now been 36 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic.

As of 1 pm on Saturday the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has been informed of 294 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the State. There are now 2,415 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Today, we have our highest recorded number of deaths so far. Our condolences are with the family and friends of all patients who have died as a result of Covid-19.”

The first Aer Lingus flight to China to collect personal protective equipment for the Irish health service arrived in Beijing shortly before 8.30pm on Saturday and is expected to return to Dublin on Sunday.

Northern Ireland

Meanwhile powers to enforce restriction of movement and social distancing in Northern Ireland have been agreed by the Stormont Executive. The regulations came into force at 11pm on Saturday.

They flow from the emergency laws passed at Westminster earlier in the week. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 include penalty fines of up to £5,000 for those in breach. The regulations give the authorities the power to close certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These are extraordinary powers for any Government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times.”

Cocooning

Earlier the Government in the Republic announced it was establishing community support forums, led by local authorities to help vulnerable members of the society, especially those subject to new coronavirus cocooning requirements.

Minister for Health Simon Harris at a press briefing earlier this week. File photograph: Steve Humphreys/PA Wire
Minister for Health Simon Harris at a press briefing earlier this week. File photograph: Steve Humphreys/PA Wire

The groups are being led by chaired and co-oordinated by each local authority chief executive and will include the HSE, councils, An Post, Community Welfare Service, the Garda, other State organisations and charities.

Services will include collection and delivery of food, essential household items, fuel, medication, transport to testing, GPs and hospital appointments. If a vulnerable person needs assistance they can contact 0818 222024.

Elizabeth Canavan, assistant secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, speaking at a media briefing at Government Buildings, said there would be a grace period until 6pm on Monday for businesses to wind down.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris said Ireland was seeing “a very concerning situation regarding ICU capacity”.

Speaking at a briefing at his department on Saturday afternoon, he said there were 71 people in ICU with Covid-19 and that figure would rise.

Respecting the strict new measures announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Friday night would keep more people out of ICU, he said.

He said he did not like the term “cocooning” and said that the age of 70 “is not old”. But he stressed that people over 70 should regard “cocooning” as a supportive term. He knew it was difficult for them to be asked to stay at home all the time.

List of essential workers (final four pages)

Referring to the new measures, Mr Harris said that, “being very honest”, the measures were “so restrictive and so imposing and so challenging” that he was not sure they could be sustained for more than the proposed two-week period.

He said the coronavirus crisis would continue for “potentially many months” but he hoped some progress would be seen by the end of the two-week period.

Mr Harris said a total of 262 nurses had been hired recently.

He said the Irish people have been “brilliant” throughout the ongoing pandemic.

“But it is important that we do have the powers for those that will attempt to disrupt public health, and there’ll always be one or two,” he said.

Earlier, the Government moved to clarify that people can travel beyond 2km of their homes to buy food.

A spokesman stressed that there was no need to panic buy or stockpile groceries and other supplies.

“Members of the public are advised that, under the new restrictions announced by the Taoiseach last night, you can travel beyond the 2km limit for food shopping,” he said.

“There is no need to panic buy or stockpile. Our supplies chains are working well and will continue to do so. The 2km limit relates to physical exercise within your locality.”

There were large queues at some supermarkets today.

People have been told to stay at home in virtually all circumstances and all public and private gatherings have been banned for two weeks as part of the Government’s latest sweeping measures to tackle coronavirus.

Earlier, Mr Harris confirmed that construction workers would not be considered “essential” workers for the duration of the crisis.

On Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh this morning, he said construction workers would only be permitted to continue at work if they were building something that was essential to the pandemic.

“So for example if we were to decide that we need to put in modular units or adapt a hotel or build things that we need to actually get through this pandemic – of course that would be essential,” he said.

Reacting, the Director General of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Tom Parlon said: “According to Minister Simon Harris, construction is not deemed as essential service and as such construction workers should stay at home effective from midnight last night.

“The Government is finalising a list of essential services to be completed later today that might outline some limited forms of construction essential to combatting Covid-19 directly.”

Mr Parlon said that, in the meantime, the CIF was calling on its members to secure construction sites immediately. “We recommend that members sending teams to secure sites should call ahead to gardaí to inform them,” he added.

“As ever, the construction industry is ready to help combat Covid-19 in any way possible. The CIF will continue to engage with Government and the HSE to explore ways the industry can contribute.”

The only exceptions to the stay-at-home rule is for travel to health, social care or other essential work, shopping for food and takeaways, medical appointments and for “vital family reasons” such as providing care.

People will also be allowed take “brief, individual” physical exercise within 2km of their home, and farming will continue.

Major policing
Late on Friday night An Garda Síochána said there would be a major policing operation this weekend to ensure the new restrictions were being complied with. There will be a high visibility Garda presence all over the country involving thousands of gardaí on foot, bike and mobile patrols.

The Garda operation which runs until 7am on Monday will focus on encouraging compliance with the new measures. However, the Garda said they would intervene where groups of people or venues or outlets were ignoring the new restrictions.

Mr Varadkar announced the restrictions on Friday evening which mean use of public transport is to be limited to people providing essential services, travel to offshore islands will be limited to residents and pharmacists will be able to dispense medicines even where prescriptions have expired.

“These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible,” Mr Varadkar said. “In the days or weeks ahead, we’re not prisoners of fate, we can influence what’s going to happen to us next.”

Mr Varadkar appealed to people to “give meaning to our freedom” by agreeing to the restrictions, “restricting how we live our lives, so that others may live”.

“I’m asking us for a time to forgo our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause. And I’m appealing to every man, woman and child in our country to make the sacrifices, not out of self interest, but for the love of each other.”

Recommendations
The extra measures are being introduced on foot of recommendations by the National Public Health Emergency Team at its meeting earlier on Friday.

While declining to describe the measures as a “lockdown”, Mr Varadkar admitted they were “very restrictive” and added: “There isn’t much more we can do.”

He admitted the measures would be hard to police but said the gardaí have powers to detain people and that penalties can be imposed.

Meanwhile President Michael D Higgins has signed into law the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020.

It gives the Government extensive emergency powers to combat the pandemic and mitigate economic collapse.

The Bill prevents evictions of tenants, imposes a rent freeze, allows restaurants to become takeaways and provides for the rehiring of retired healthcare workers and former soldiers.

It also provides temporary income support schemes by contributing to wage costs to allow employers to continue paying their employees.

President Higgins said it was for “a time of crisis” and it was appropriate it had time limits and left constitutional rights in place.

Protective equipment
Stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff tackling the Covid-19 outbreak are “beginning to run low”, according to the Health Service Executive. It is currently seeking to redistribute stocks to sites with “particular shortages”, it said.

A large shipment of PPE is scheduled to arrive in Dublin Airport on Sunday and be distributed in the following days, but it remains unclear if existing supplies will be sufficient to bridge the gap until then.

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