Ireland will have a “lockdown four” unless community transmission of Covid-19 is eliminated, the Dáil has been warned.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the Government's 'Living with Covid' strategy has failed and statements by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in two weeks' time about what "might potentially happen" is not a strategy.
“The Tánaiste and Minister for Housing over the last 48 hours making statements about what’s going to happen in two or four or six weeks’ time is not a strategy”.
In a Dáil debate on a Labour motion to introduce a “national aggressive suppression strategy”, Mr Kelly said “the biggest issue we face is the mutations” of the virus.
Warning that “the Brazilian and South African variants are on tour”, he said the issue of travel was fundamental to the party’s strategy and he demanded mandatory quarantine for all travellers.
“We need to eliminate community transmission or we will be in lockdown 4,” he stressed.
He criticised the strategy of people paying a fine but continuing with their holiday: “What is the point of ‘we’ll fine you €500 and wish you the best for your holiday’? We have to have power to stop them going or fine them enough that they won’t want to travel.”
The Tipperary TD also said there were too many people who were not working from home and said there had to be checkpoints at 5km on all main Border roads and a significant number of minor roads. And he renewed his call for a €1,000 payment to frontline healthcare workers for their efforts during the pandemic.
Labour finance spokesman Ged Nash called on the Minister to "have the humility and grace to acknowledge that a change of course is required" because the current strategy was "redundant".
During the debate, the Government faced trenchant cross-party Opposition criticism about Government "leaks" and Labour's Brendan Howlin said "the mixed messaging is driving people bonkers".
Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane described comments by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar about the potential opening of the country as “kite flying” and said it was an “absolute disgrace”.
He said there was “no lesson learned” as he accused the Tánaiste of “pushing back against public health advice and trying to blame others” for the Government’s failure to deal with the virus.
Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall said Mr Varadkar’s comments were “fantasy stuff” and it was “infuriating” to hear the Taoiseach talk about being “cautious and conservative”. She said that was the last thing we need. “We need our political leaders in Government to be brave and courageous and pursue a clear strategy.”
And she called for the Taoiseach to allocate responsibility for travel to either the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Justice or the Minister for Foreign Affairs who all had roles in this. She said it did not make sense that the Minister for Health would have responsibility for overseeing “the entire regime for monitoring international travel during the pandemic”.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said, however, that many of the ideas in the Labour strategy were in line with the approach taken, or considered by, Government.
He said the Government’s ‘Resilience and Recovery Plan’ was based on a public health approach to the pandemic and aimed to suppress the virus to the greatest extend possible, while allowing society and businesses to operate as much as possible.
He said the pattern of disease in Ireland is broadly similar to that observed in many other European countries, and Ireland now had the “fastest reducing 14-day incidence of the disease in the EU and are now mid-table based on 14-day incidence”.
But, he said, the average daily case numbers are still around 1,000, and they need to fall considerably further.
“We have moved from an advisory regime to a mandatory quarantine regime, which involves enforcement measures and penal provisions.
“Detailed work on new travel measures, including the drafting of primary legislation to provide for designated quarantine facilities, is a priority.”
He insisted that “the Government is committed to close and productive cooperation with Northern Ireland to foster commonality in approaches”.
Independent TD Michael Lowry criticised the Labour strategy as “idealistic” and said there was no mention in the plan of how businesses would cope with this strategy in their struggle to survive. Their urgent need was to open safely and save what they can. He added that the airlines would not survive another summer of lockdown.
Independent Mattie McGrath said the Labour strategy would kill the small business domestic economy.