Pandemic is ‘close to having us lock down the country again’ – Donnelly

Minister for Health warns that the State is at a ‘tipping point’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has warned that Ireland is at a "tipping point" with regard to Covid-19 and that the country may be locked down again. Video: Oireachtas TV


Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has warned the State is at a “tipping point”, and that the coronavirus pandemic is “close to having us lock down the country again”.

Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 on Wednesday, Mr Donnelly said that if public health advice is followed, schools and businesses can remain open and the virus can be suppressed.

However, he said: “the reality is we are dealing with a virus that is close to having us lock down the country again. The public health advice is that we are at a tipping point and we are doing everything we can to suppress this virus to stop a second lockdown”.

He said that if a second lockdown were to happen, healthcare services will be “severely curtailed”. Currently, the strategy is to use “targeted measures to suppress the virus while keeping as much of our society and our economy open as possible”. He argued that the experiences of Kildare, Laois, and Offaly showed that suppressing the virus through this strategy was possible.

He warned, however: “If there is a second wave the Government will have to consider the blunt instrument which we know works, that is, a lockdown. We are doing everything we can to avoid that.”

He raised the prospect of lockdown measures still in place in Co Kildare being lifted, if the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) agrees. The profile of the disease will be discussed at a meeting of the team on Thursday.

“If the restrictions can be lifted early based on public health advice, they most certainly will be,” he said.

‘Comprehensive winter plan’

The warning came as the Department of Health confirmed a further 164 cases of the disease had been diagnosed in the State, and no new deaths linked with the virus. As of midnight on Tuesday, there have been a total of 28,363 diagnoses, and 1,777 deaths in the Republic.

Mr Donnelly said that the winter plan for the health services is being produced several months early, and will be the “most comprehensive winter plan that has ever been launched”, but he warned that “because of the costings involved . . . it will not be cheap”.

At an earlier Committee session, Health Service Executive head Paul Reid said that the plan was “not just about a winter plan”, and that the HSE board is finalising plans “for a set of funding that will see us through the winter and through 2021”.

This will involve a range of significant, different approaches aiming to keep people out of hospitals,” he said.

Mr Donnelly also said that “we may well end up at a public inquiry” into deaths in nursing homes in the State and that he is “open to the idea”. However, referencing the Scally report into Cervical Check, he said the right approach may not be a public inquiry, and that the best approach for the families of those who had died should be adopted.