Local lockdowns may be used if there are spikes of Covid-19 cases or localised concerns around the Indian variant of the disease, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
The Fine Gael leader said that while there have been “mixed results” to such lockdowns in the past, the Government is retaining the option to use them should they be needed in the coming months.
“Local lockdowns to local restrictions are a policy option, they’re there in the government’s plan. They are a policy option if we have an outbreak in a particular area. But we’ve had mixed results with them in the past unfortunately, the one in Kildare and the Midlands worked, others didn’t really. The country is so small and people travel so much within Ireland, local lockdowns probably aren’t as effective as they might be in other countries but it is an option should we need to use it but hopefully we won’t have to.”
Mr Varadkar also said he shared the concerns of the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan about large crowds gathering in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.
He warned that something similar could happen next weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend, if the weather is good.
“It is very disappointing that we witnessed the scenes that we saw in Dublin yesterday. We are encouraging people to get outdoors, and it’s much safer to be outdoors than indoors. But the rules still apply. People shouldn’t be meeting up in groups of more than three households and should try to observe social distancing. We would certainly share the CMO’s concerns in relation to that,” he said,
“But I would say, on the seventh of June, we will see outdoor hospitality reopening. And I think what we’re going to see on our streets is something a bit more organised because of the fact that pubs and bars and restaurants will be able to open their doors so that’s a positive move.”
The Tánaiste, speaking in south Dublin on Sunday afternoon, said there was a role for the gardaí to play and also for the city council.
He also said the Government is concerned about the risk of a fourth wave of the virus.
“The course we are taking in the view of Nphet and the CMO is a low to moderate risk. But low to moderate risk doesn’t mean no risk.
“And of course there is a risk of repeating what happened in December. People socialising combined with a more virulent and more transmissible variant, the Indian variant for example. So that is a real risk. What’s different now is vaccination. We know that the vaccines are effective against all variants provided you are fully vaccinated and that’s why we’re setting the target of 2.5 million people fully vaccinated by July.”
Earlier a further 374 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Sunday.
Latest figures show that as of midnight on Saturday there were 99 Covid-19 patients in the country’s hospitals, with 35 of those in ICU.
The Department of Health said the daily case number may change due to future data validation.
The CEO of the HSE Paul Reid said the vaccination programme was making “great headway” with over 1 million people vaccinated in May and a total of 2.7 million vaccines administered.
In a message posted on Twitter he said 50 per cent of the adult population has had one dose and close to 20 per cent of people have had a second dose. “Reduced illness, sickness, mortality and a massive take-up,” he noted.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme earlier on Sunday Mr Varadkar said the Government will assess the epidemiological situation at the end of June “before giving the final green light” to further reopening of society. He said “that’s always been the case that we review the situation before D-day”.
The Tánaiste said the decisions on re-opening in June, July and August “were made on foot of public health advice from Nphet and the CMO” on the basis of a “low to moderate risk”.
The review at the end of June will be based on the levels of the virus, the vaccination programme, the impact of the variants and the levels of hospitalisation.
He also said he understood the concerns of restaurants about phased re-opening but said “we know that outdoor is a much safer than indoors and that’s why it’s outdoors first”. He and Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin will meet the restaurant industry.
They would tell restaurateurs that “even when they’re open outdoors, they’ll continue to receive the weekly CRSS (Covid Restriction Support Scheme) payment as though they were closed and that isn’t going to be the case for hotels”.
He said there would also be a “very substantial bullet payment” in July when they will be able to open indoors and that will be more than hotels receive.
The Government will announce the amount of the payment on Tuesday but said “don’t bank on that” following reports of payments of up to €30,000. He said the amount would depend on the size of the business and its turnover.
Earlier, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said the digital green certificate is the best potential way to reduce delays at airports for people travelling within the EU.
Responding to reports that the Cabinet had been warned of delays of up to 10 hours at airports as non-essential air travel prepares to return from July 19th Mr Byrne said “if we didn’t have the digital green certificate I can absolutely see why those delays would happen”.
He said that “currently people are showing a piece of paper or an email and people are looking at it, querying whether this is the correct certificate or result” and there is “massive scope for delay”.
Mr Byrne said he had experience of it travelling to Brussels and MEPs had reported difficulties as they tried to get to the Belgian capital through different routes because of poor connections. It is “chaotic” as people look for “bits of paper”.
But with the digital Covid certificate “there is a standardised way of looking at things - and its’ a very simple extra check, just like a passport, or boarding pass in a standard form”.
"I think that is the best potential to reduce delays," he said on Newstalk's On the Record with Gavan Reilly on Sunday.
The digital Covid certificate is aimed to help EU residents demonstrate whether they have been vaccinated when travelling within the bloc. The system has been developed at the insistence of member states that are economically reliant on tourism in the hope it will help to ease travel restrictions.
Mr Byrne said they are going to try and have as best as possible co-ordination of that and the European Council of Ministers will recommend the re-introduction of the old traffic lights system.
The rules are all different in almost every member state but he hoped over the next month they could get them harmonised as much as possible.
He added that the French government has invited health and European affairs ministers members to a meeting on Tuesday and to look at travel restrictions and travel into EU.
The new system comes into effect in the EU on July 1st and member states have six weeks to have it in place but Ireland will implement it on July 19th.
The green certificate will also come in paper form but he believed most people would use the App which would have three certificates – one for those vaccinated against the virus, one for those who have a negative PCR test, and one for those who have recovered from Covid-19.
He said “the only difficulty with the system is it depends on the rules in your own country and rules in the country you want to visit”.
But he said that “as vaccination progresses and as numbers go down it is likely there will be a common set of standards” while currently there are different rules for all those systems.