Coronavirus: Older people who leave houses may be asked to go home - Harris

Local authority to lead community support service for people cocooning

Older people who leave their homes in the next fortnight could be asked by gardaí to go home, Minister for Health Simon Harris has warned.

He said further restrictions on people movements, announced by the Taoiseach Leo Vardakar on Friday were, “so restrictive, and so imposing and so challenging” he did not think they could be imposed for much longer than they are planned to be in place.

The restrictions mean people should not leave their homes other than in very limited circumstances for the next fortnight, while people over 70, or with an underlying medical condition should not leave their homes at all.

Under emergency legislation passed by the Oireachtas on Thursday gardaí will be empowered to enforce these restrictions, including to detain people refusing to comply.

“We are asking people to do things that are abnormal. We are asking people to live their lives in a very different way,” said Mr Harris. “We are asking people to stay at home...

“We are asking people 70 and over and people with medically vulnerable conditions not to leave their homes at all.., This is about as tough as it can get,” he told at a press-briefing at the Department of Health on Saturday.

“The laws passed by the Oireachtas allows for a penal offence whereby a member of An Garda Siochana could detain and arrest and ultimately pursue through the courts somebody who defies the public health advice.”

Asked if people over 70 who felt fit and well and wanted to leave their home for a walk or to collect groceries would be stopped by a garda, he said: “Any one of us who leave our home during this period of time can reasonably expect that the law of the land will allow a garda to ask where we are heading off to.

“ I do know the gardaí will use their discretion...They will talk to the person about the public health advice and to ask the person if they are not complying with it, to comply.”

In every local authority area, community supports are being mobilised to assist older people and medically vulnerable people remain at home - or ‘cocoon’. From Monday An Post will instrct post-men and women to check on older and vulnerable, respecting social distancing.

Detailing the local authority response, Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy said he had instructed all council chief executives to “operationalise” their community response fora.

Any older or vulnerable person who cannot leave their homes over the next two weeks should call 0818 22 024.

This community help line will be open “from early morning to late evening, seven days’ per week, in every local authority.”

Services provided will be the collection and delivery of food, essential household items, fuel and medication; transport to and from community testing centres, clinical assessment hubs, and medical appointments; social isolation supports; meal deliveries; garda-related issues and any other medical or health needs.

Mr Harris said: “My message to older people we are asking to stay at home, is ‘We will not leave you at alone at this time’.”