Minister for Agriculture tests positive for Covid-19 prompting colleagues to restrict movements

Taoiseach tests negative on Wednesday night as other Ministers’ results not yet known

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue was tested yesterday. File photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue was tested yesterday. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for Agriculture Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue has tested positive for Covid-19, his spokesman has confirmed.

The Donegal representative has displayed no symptoms and is self isolating for a period of time and following all public health guidelines, the spokesman added.

News that Covid-19 had struck at the heart of Government came earlier when the Government Information Service (GIS) announced that a member of Cabinet had tested positive, although the identity of the Minister was not revealed initially.

In line with public health advice, all Ministers are now restricting their movements while they await a coronavirus test and result.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has tested negative but on Wednesday night the results of other cabinet ministers’ tests were not yet clear.

Under rules for essential workers, Mr McConalogue did not have to restrict his movements on return to the State after a business trip to Brussels earlier this month. The rules state that those who travel overseas for essential purposes and restrict their movements - aside from that essential purpose - while abroad should not be advised to restrict their movements on return. A spokesman for the Minister said he therefore did not have to restrict his movements.

Mr McConalogue was tested before departure for Brussels on the 14th, and again on his return on the 17th, with both tests coming back negative. The “day five” test, required following travel, which was undertaken yesterday (December 22nd), was positive. Mr McConalogue was in Dublin City Centre on personal business yesterday, and also attended the Cabinet meeting at which new Covid-19 restrictions were agreed, prior to taking the Day five test in the late afternoon. He was given the results of the test on Wednesday morning.

Minister Eamon Ryan said he got the word that a colleague tested positive as he arrived at Government buildings for an interview with journalists. He had to return home and the press conference took place online instead.

Mr Ryan said he will follow all HSE advice on restricting his movements. And he said he hopes all his colleagues are safe and well.

“I absolutely wish Charlie well and a safe and speedy recovery from the virus. The same to all my colleagues and anyone else. There’s a thousand families in this country waking up this morning from those figures yesterday to that reality. My thoughts and well wishes goes out to every one of those families. And that’s why we have to act in difficult circumstances the way we do. The Cabinet meeting - just to maybe give a sense of the details - the logistics of it. It’s held - not in the ordinary Cabinet room, not even in Government Buildings - to provide a safe environment it’s held in Dublin Castle.

“And in that conference centre you get down to the bottom of the stairs... and there’s the big main conference room.

“So that’s where cabinet’s held. And it’s more than two metres distancing. I’d say it’s almost three or four metres because it’s such a big room.”

Mr Ryan said the meeting was not very lengthy and lasted a little less than two hours.

“We have tried wherever possible in Government Buildings or other meetings to try and keep them to two hours on health advice. It was there or there about a yesterday. So ordinarily people don’t wear masks but people sometimes do and certainly coming in and out of the room or any other engagements people do wear masks. But because in speaking people tend to take off their masks that tends to be the approach.”

When asked if Mr McConalogue was wearing a mask he said that was his recollection.

Hard lockdown

Meanwhile, senior Government figures fear that if there is widespread infection here with the new variant of Covid-19 which has been detected in the UK, existing restrictions will be insufficient and a hard lockdown will be needed to stop the spread of the virus.

This could see the country returning to the restrictions which were imposed last March, sources fear.

While the Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday stressed that schools would open as planned in January, sources say that position would have to be reviewed if the growth in cases accelerated to the point where thousands of new cases were reported every day.

There were 970 new cases announced last night, and that number is expected to pass 1,000 today.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also said that the situation for non-essential retail - currently allowed to stay open - would be reviewed if the case numbers continued to increase rapidly.

There is growing alarm in Government that cases are set to spiral in the coming days, after public health officials told ministers yesterday that cases are currently growing by 10 per cent a day.

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