Taoiseach hopes Ireland will return to Level 3 in December
Martin predicts move from higher to lower restrictions, and back to higher if virus keeps spreading
Taoiseach Micheál Martin: he said the reproduction number, the rate at which an infected person spreads Covid-19, needed to be consistently below one. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has predicted a period where Ireland continues to go from higher to lower restriction levels and back again if coronavirus continues to spread.
He told the Dáil “I’m just being very candid. I do foresee a period where you will have periods of higher-level restrictions, followed by lower-level restrictions and if necessary followed by higher-level restrictions again if the virus spreads in the reopening phases”.
Mr Martin also said he hoped after six weeks at Level 5 that the State could return to Level 3 in December.
The State “is going to be dealing with this” throughout 2021, he added.
He said while the State had advance orders for two more vaccines in development even when they are successful, manufacture and distribution would take months, and Ireland would still have to deal with the virus.
He was responding to Opposition pressure over the move to Level 5 restrictions, with concerns that a constant change in restriction levels was unsustainable.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was taken aback by Mr Martin’s comments on TV that “seemed to suggest we will move in and out of lockdown for the duration of 2021”.
She said a lot is being asked of people over the next six weeks.
“The Government absolutely cannot sleepwalk its way through this lockdown. Everything that needs to be done must be done to ensure we emerge stronger at every level.”
Ms McDonald added: “We need a strategy that brings us beyond 2020. This must be an all-island strategy.”
She said they “can’t lose this second window of opportunity” to build hospital capacity and defences for the time ahead.
The Taoiseach said: “This virus kills and it also damages people for the long term in that it can have long-term health implications.”
He added that Ms McDonald knew more than anyone “the difficulties and sensitivities of endeavouring to reach an agreement within the North, never mind on an all-island basis”.
Rise TD Paul Murphy said that not implementing a zero-Covid strategy meant a “continuous yo-yo into lockdown, out of lockdown”, which is a “nightmare for people”. Other countries including New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Iceland and Australia had successfully done this.
The Taoiseach said Ireland could not pursue a zero-Covid strategy because it was not New Zealand, and it was not possible to seal the Border either.
Labour leader Alan Kelly called for the Taoiseach to “simplify” and measure what was needed to get back to Level 3 and Level 2.
Mr Kelly said “we cannot always be going between levels 2 and 5. I believe we are going to have to live with this virus and to move between one level up or one level down, but these massive changes cannot be sustained”.
Mr Martin said the reproduction number, the rate at which an infected person spreads Covid-19, would need to be consistently below one.
He said they had to consistently get below 1 but to get to 0.5 which Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) recommended would be very challenging in six weeks.
The Taoiseach said “this is not an exact science”. He said that at Level 3 Ireland was already at a serious form of restriction because it “essentially closes down the hospitality sector”.
He said they had not yet quantified the human cost of lockdowns.