Minister for health Stepen Donnelly explains why Phase 4 of opening up Ireland had to be delayed.
“I know the decision not to move to Phase 4 is extremely disappointing.
The Government’s focus is on keeping the public safe, suppressing the virus and making sure we can open the schools and protecting the economy.
What the Government did yesterday was follow the public health advice.
I met the Chief Medical Officer directly after the NPHET meeting, and the message conveyed to me and the Government was that NPHET were unanimous and unambiguous on the fact that we are very finely balanced at the moment.
Reopening pubs or increasing large gatherings – or other measures which in other countries we have seen increase the rate of the virus – could have very, very serious consequences not just for Wicklow but for the entire country.
To put it into context the virus is spreading internationally, 14 of the 15 countries initially on the travel green list have seen serious increases in coronavirus numbers in just the past two weeks.
The five day average here was down to less than 10 new cases a day, that’s now more than 50 new cases a day.
Two weeks ago we had 120 new cases, last week we had 284 which is two and a half times more.
At the moment we have eight significant clusters, four in factories involving food processing, four in direct provision, we have numerous smaller clusters around the country as well and we have an increase in what is known as community transmission.
These are cases where people pick up the disease but it’s unknown where they got it from.
We’ve been asked about the possibility of localised openings of pubs but at the moment the public health advice is not to do that.
There are a few reasons for that including the fact the community transmission cases are happening all over the country so it’s not that they are all in Dublin or all in Cork.
Secondly, the international evidence is that when pubs are reopened that in spite of everyone’s best efforts it does lead to an increase in cases.
“In the future the regional relaxation of restrictions may be something we will look at.
It’s worth noting the biggest package of social protection and job stimulus measures in the history of the country are in place right now.
The VAT rate has been reduced, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment has been extended until April, there are restart grants, there’s a commercial rates waiver, there are micro enterprise loans and on top of that the two Finance Ministers have been tasked with looking at further ways of helping the sector.
Even with all these supports in place I understand the pubs frustration and anger but the focus is not on whether or not we reopen pubs but the focus is and has to be on protecting the country and suppressing the virus”.