‘Too early to say’ if 2m rule for workplaces will be reconsidered - Minister

HSE chief says hybrid working model would be the best option for a while

Paul Reid has said that he anticipates hybrid working practices with some returning to the workplace and others continuing to work from home. Photograph: iStock

Paul Reid has said that he anticipates hybrid working practices with some returning to the workplace and others continuing to work from home. Photograph: iStock

 

“It is too early to say” if the two metre social distancing rule rule for workplaces will be reconsidered, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has said.

Asked on his way into Cabinet about the possible return to the office in August, Michael McGrath told RTE: “We’re very satisfied with the progress so far with the reopening of society and our economy. We’re looking forward to more reopenings hopefully net month. It’s about holding onto the gains that we have made and building on them in a careful and gradual way

“We would like to see people having the opportunity to go back to their normal place of work , back to offices as soon as August subject to public health advice. But the situation is evolving. We’re doing well let’s take this step by step. “

Elsewhere the director general of the HSE, Paul Reid has said that he anticipates hybrid working practices with some returning to the workplace and others continuing to work from home.

Mr Reid told Newstalk Breakfast that he would like to see a return to life as it was in 2019, if it could be done in a safe way as it would be good for mental health.

A hybrid working model, with some returning to the office and others working from home, was what he thought would emerge and that would be the best option “for a while.”

On Tuesday Taoiseach Micheál Martin did not rule out the possibility of the Government sanctioning a sooner than expected full-scale return to offices for workers by August if Covid-19 levels can be further reduced.

“I think we will see towards the end of this month with the progress we have made whether we can move forward in some areas like that,” said Mr Martin .

“In the world of work, a lot of young people have not yet been in their offices after being recruited last year. We want them to get the office experience as fast as they can.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar had backed a return of workers to their offices from August and he is understood to have asked the National Public Health Emergency Team to consider a phased return then, rather than September.

“We are planning a phased return to offices from September provided the vaccine programme continues to gather pace and the virus remains under control, I believe August makes more sense than September,” said Mr Varadkar.

Separately Mr Reid said had been a really tough year so it was important to see that progress was being made. More people were being vaccinated and there were reduced case numbers. There was also a shift in the age profile of cases with the majority now in the under 40 age cohort. Only seven percent were aged over 55 with only two percent aged over 65, he said.

There were still concerns about variants, he added, especially in the UK where if there was a fourth wave it would have an impact on Ireland.

Mr Reid said the HSE’s focus would continue to be on three aspects - the vaccination programme; testing and tracing and public health measures. The majority of people were adhering to public health measures, but there was always a risk and the numbers could change very quickly as had happened in Limerick.

“We need to be on our guard.”