By Michelle Devane, PA
The Tánaiste has said it will be “very hard to see” the number of daily cases of coronavirus drop to under 500 a day due to the UK variant of the disease.
Leo Varadkar said cases were “stuck” at about 500 to 600 a day despite the “enormous efforts” of the Irish people and reducing it to lower levels is “not a prospect” in the way that it had been before the mutation of the virus.
Wednesday saw 18 further deaths linked to Covid-19 and 683 new cases confirmed by the Department of Health.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil almost 4,700 people had died of the virus so far this year, more people than had died of Covid-19 in all of last year.
“I think that demonstrates how serious the B117 variant is and how different it is to the Wuhan strain or the wild strain that we dealt with last year, and how perhaps getting down to very low figures like 10 or 50 or even 100 a day is not a prospect in the way that it was last year because this virus has mutated,” he said.
“It is now much more transmissible, and it is now more deadly than the original wild strain and despite the enormous efforts of the Irish people doing all of the right things we’ve still got stuck around 500 or 600 cases a day.
“And it’s very hard to see how we’re going to get down, much lower than that.”
During Leaders' Questions, @RoisinShortall asks Tánaiste:
👉what steps Govt will take to drive down virus?
👉why under-resourcing of public health doctors not addressed?
👉why no retrospective tracing?
👉why are international travellers not asked if journeys are essential? pic.twitter.com/vioNa9WpoH
— Social Democrats (@SocDems) March 25, 2021
Mr Varadkar made the comments in response to Social Democrats co-leader, Róisín Shortall, who said the daily Covid-19 case numbers remained “stubbornly high”.
She asked what steps the Government was taking to drive down numbers and allow for some level of opening up of society in the economy.
“I think the vast majority of people have severely restricted their movements, and their lives in what can only be described as a huge national effort to limit the spread of the virus,” Ms Shortall said.
“However, increasingly, there is a sense that Government has not played its part, and has not done what it promised to do.”
She added that it “beggars belief” that retrospective contact tracing was not being carried out when it came to travel and that people arriving in the country were not being asked their reason for travel.
Mr Varadkar said the Government had increased border security with the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine, which gets underway on Friday for people arriving from 33 countries, making it one of the strictest in all of the European Union.
He added that more countries would be added to the list in the coming weeks once the system was up and running.