Rejoining medical register will allow Varadkar ‘take temperature of health service’

Taoiseach signals inward bound travellers may be checked to ensure they are abiding by quarantine

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said his decision to rejoin the medical register will allow him to "take the temperature of the health service" and understand the challenges being faced by the HSE because of Covid-19.

Mr Varadkar has also signaled that inward bound travellers to Ireland may be checked on to ensure that they are abiding by a 14 day quarantine.

Mr Varadkar rejoined the medical register last month and said he is giving one session a week, or a half day, in a telephone clinic.

“It is kind of gesture of support really for all the people who work in our health service and everyone beyond our health service who are contributing to the fight against the covid emergency”, he said.


“Also from a personal point of view it gives me a chance to just take the temperature of our health service, to talk least once a week to 10 or 20 people who are working in our health service and get the temperature myself of how things are going and what challenges they’re facing.

“I won’t be giving you regular reports on it, there won’t be any photo opps it will just be something I’ll be doing quietly once a week for the duration of the emergency.”

Mr Varadkar was also asked about Government plans to impose enhanced restrictions on inward bound travellers in order to prevent a potential new wave of cases.

He indicated that new measures may involve “essentially checking in” on those who are being asked to quarantine.

The amount of inbound travel in Ireland is about 5 per cent of what it was a month ago.

“The question is how do we minimise the risk from the 5 per cent that is happening which is mainly our own citizens returning home. We want them to be able to return home and a lot of that’s going to be around ensuring that they observe the 14 day quarantine and that also we can contact trace if needs be and that’s still being worked on at the moment.”

He said there are “regulations on the table ready to sign if we need to to bring in the kind of enforcement powers that exist in other countries.”

However, Mr Varadkar said he does not want to be in a position whereby “we’re criminalising people for going two kilometers away from their home without an adequate excuse.”

“The last thing I want is people to come after this emergency with fines and prison sentences and criminal convictions.”

The Labour Party on Monday called for the Government to outline its plans to provide childcare for frontline workers.

Mr Varadkar said that while the Government is ready to “push the button” on that, the National Public Health Emergency Team has not yet given to go-ahead.

“I know it’s taking a long time, it’s taking much longer than we would like, I do understand people’s frustration around that. But that is now being considered by the National Public Health Emergency team because as always public health has to be the overriding concern. And while we’re ready to push the button in terms of providing child care to essential workers, we need clearance from the public health team. It is certainly not an issue of money, that is there. It’s not an issue of staff being available, they’ve said they’ll do it. It is now an issue of public health clearance and we haven’t quite got that yet.”

Mr Varadkar was visiting the Defence Forces Joint Task Force in McKee Barracks in Dublin.

“The military is going to continue to have a central role and crucial role in responding to this emergency. And I think at a time of emergency and in a time of crisis people turn to the State, they turn to the public service and they turn to their Defence Forces for leadership and for action. And that’s very much what we’re seeing here,” he said.

On the issue of government formation, the Taoiseach said Fine Gael are ready to agree a framework document on policy with Fianna Fail this week. He said he hoped to approach other parties after this. Mr Varadkar also said he does not envisage a second general election this year.

“It’s not our view that we should try to bully any party in the Government. You know this is a democracy and there shouldn’t be any forced marriages in a democracy, only parties that want to serve together that want to work together, that have a mandate to work together should work together.”

Mr Varadkar also said he does not envisage a second general election this year.

Meanwhile former Fine Gael minister for health and practising GP James Reilly said Mr Varadkar returning to work in the health service was a “strong signal of support” for healthcare workers in the fight against coronavirus but he welcomed the fact that the Taoiseach would not be having direct contact with possible coronavirus-infected patients.

“It is sensible that he is not putting himself in direct contact with patients as taoiseach as that would be very risky,” said Mr Reilly of his former Cabinet colleague.

Mr Varadkar succeeded Mr Reilly as minister for health in 2014. Mr Reilly is working as a GP from a clinic in a north Co Dublin, meeting patients and giving consultations by phone.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent