‘Deep and urgent threat’: Martin defends midlands lockdown
Move criticised as ‘blunt instrument’ and ‘draconian’ by local TD Charlie Flanagan
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government was forced to make “difficult decisions” in imposing new restrictions on three midlands counties in order to protect public health amid increasing clusters of Covid-19 in those areas.
In an address to the nation , Mr Martin said the process of reopening would not be simple and that “it won’t be a case of just moving forward step by step”.
Announcing an effective partial lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly for two weeks, he said that although Ireland had done “very well” by international standards there had been a number of localised clusters over the last week “which are a serious concern”.
“We can’t afford to ‘wait and see’ – the disease is not waiting. We must protect public health to the greatest extent possible. Everything else is secondary to that, and if this requires difficult decisions, then so be it.”
“I want to be very clear that the Government is determined to do everything possible to prevent the return of widespread transmission of the virus,” he said.
Mr Martin said the Government could have gone further in those three counties and nationwide. “We are conscious that our responses in the future need to be more nuanced and sustainable,” he said. Mr Martin said he understood the increasing impatience that many people were feeling. “There is a huge desire to get back to normal life.”
But, he added, the pandemic presented “a deep and urgent threat, which is merciless and unrelenting.”
Under the measures residents of the counties can now only travel within their own county except for work, medical appointments or vital family reasons. Cafes, restaurants and pubs will close except for takeaway or limited outside seating. Cinemas, theatres, museums and gyms will also have to close. However, barbers and hairdressers can remain open. Creches can also remain open and work can continue to prepare for reopening schools.
An attendance limit of 25 people outdoors is set for a funerals or six people indoors. No sporting events or matches should take place except for outdoor non-contact training up to 15 people; professional and elite sports and horse racing behind closed doors.
Visiting in long-term residential care facilities, acute settings and prisons will not be allowed except under critical circumstances. The over-70s or the medically vulnerable are also being asked “to stay at home as much as possible”.
Mr Martin said that while the burden of the decision “falls heaviest on the three counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, the message needs to be understood everywhere in Ireland. There is nothing inevitable about keeping the disease under control.”
Garda checkpoints will be in place in the three counties to ensure that residents are not travelling outside their county except for urgent, medical or work reasons. Those who must travel through the three counties in order to get to a different destination are being asked not to stop along the way.
The HSE said it had decided to provide additional resources in support of public health teams in the region, particularly in their contact-tracing work.
The National Ambulance Service will also provide additional pop-up testing facilities in the region from Saturday. The HSE will also be providing isolation facilities for those who cannot self-isolate in their homes or communal settings.
Government TDs have expressed disquiet at the move. Former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan said that “local lockdown is a blunt instrument”, which is “draconian”. The Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly said the move “punished local communities when the meat factory issue was flagged weeks ago”.