State’s handling of pandemic to be ‘evaluated’, Taoiseach confirms

We want to be in a better, stronger position if another pandemic arises, says Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed there will be an ‘evaluation’ of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed there will be an ‘evaluation’ of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed there will be an “evaluation” of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The State had to “learn lessons for the future” in the event of another pandemic, he said on Thursday.

Up to this point Mr Martin said he did not want key figures in the pandemic response being pulled “out of the front line to be inside in some room going through presentations” as part of a review.

“I don’t want people during the next pandemic saying ‘there’s an inquiry coming’ and take a conservative approach,” he said. It was natural that mistakes would be made during a pandemic, but he was “satisfied” decision-makers had always acted in the public interest.

The country had come through the wave of the Omicron variant “better than we might have expected”, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to meet today, with the group expected to give the go-ahead for the easing of some restrictions.

The Cabinet is to meet tomorrow, after which Mr Martin said he will make a “clear and comprehensive statement about what lies ahead, both in the short term and in the medium term”.

Curfew

It is expected some restrictions, such as the current 8pm curfew on hospitality, may be relaxed from next week.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
15,011,914 10,799,130

Mr Martin said the initial plan to deal with the highly transmissible Omicron variant had been to introduce curbs on socialising and gatherings until the start of February. “I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than anticipated,” he said.

The fact the number of new cases had been so high in recent weeks and the State was not in a lockdown was due to the impact of booster vaccinations, he said.

“The booster has been the best weapon we’ve had against Omicron,” he said.

Those who were unvaccinated, or who had not received their booster shot, were often the ones ending up in hospital with the virus, he said.

Mr Martin said he was concerned that the booster uptake among younger people was lower than older cohorts.

“It is a concern and amidst all the noise sometimes the message around vaccination can get lost. So there will be a doubling down on the campaign of vaccination,” he said.

There could be “another chapter in Covid”, adding that the “pandemic isn’t over”. The ending of requirements for people to wear face masks was “some day away yet”, he said.

Clarity

Separately, Mr Martin said the Government would provide clarity around the Leaving Cert exams for students “within the next short while”.

There would be “challenges” in any move to a hybrid model of exams and teacher-assessed grades this year, due to a lack of grade data on students who did not have Junior Cert results, he said.

Grade inflation was also a concern, and third-level institutions had been “squeezed” to provide thousands of additional course places over the last two years, which would be challenging to do again, he said.

There will be a panel set up to examine the categories of workers entitled to a €1,000 pandemic bonus payment announced for frontline healthcare workers.

“We’re going to look at certain categories – those who were on the frontline – engaging with patients, clearly there was a higher risk in the health arena, so they have to be a priority,” he said.

A panel would examine some categories of healthcare workers “where there might be issues around”, he said.

“Without the people in the frontline of our health services we wouldn’t have come through Covid, they have to be the priority,” he said.

The Taoiseach said there had to be “some demarcation lines to give true recognition to those on the frontline”, who had suffered trauma.