Decision on Covid-19 restrictions not linked to testing, Martin told

Fianna Fáil leader says construction should be allowed resume in areas with few cases

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was told any decision on whether or not to ease coronavirus restrictions was not linked to testing capacity.

Mr Martin was one of a number of party leaders to have received a detailed briefing on the Government response to the coronavirus threat on Wednesday.

“The CMO [chief medical officer] and the Taoiseach were adamant today that the decision to lift restrictions, or not lift them, is not related to testing capacity right now,” he said.

In an interview on Virgin Media One's Tonight Show he said a road map, expected this week, would be vital in setting out how the economy might begin to slowly reopen.


However, he said certain areas such as construction were obvious candidates and that the public must “stay the course” on advice from public health experts.

"Essentially we are past the peak, was the language being used," he said in summarising the message presented by chief medical officer Tony Holohan, "that we are on our way to suppressing the virus and that progress was being made on that front but we're not there yet.

“He gave a strong indication that there will not be any major lifting of restrictions announced on Friday but that a road map may be announced in terms of how those restrictions may be eased over the following number of weeks.”

However, Mr Martin said social distancing and the focus on hand hygiene would have to remain for the next 12 months to two years until a vaccine could be found.

Asked whether activity should be allowed resume on construction sites he said some should, particularly those in areas with few cases of the virus, also known as Covid-19.

“I think some should ... many are small, many are in locations where there is no great volume of Covid-19 cases and I think there needs to be practical common sense applied there.”

He said social housing projects are open in some areas because they are deemed essential services.

“I think over time one could see that happening. In terms of construction I would have thought would be one of the more easier areas to bring back and to get some activity into the economy.”

Although generally supporting ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the virus, the Fianna Fáil leader was critical of some aspects, notably the handling of infection spread in nursing homes and negotiations with private consultants.

Contact tracing

He also said that on the subject of contact tracing – the process of tracking down the people those infected have been in contact with to stem the virus’s circulation – he had heard anecdotally that the numbers of people being contacted by tracing teams was not huge. “And that is something that needs to be tightened up.”

But when it came to the ongoing lockdown, Mr Martin said older people were “way ahead of the Government in terms of cocooning” and that many restaurants and pubs shut before being instructed to do so.

“Of course there’s lots of frustration but [the virus] is being suppressed,” he said.

As for ongoing efforts to form a government, Mr Martin said he believed the Green Party should take part as the climate issue “is as existential as Covid itself”.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times