Calls for more support as Taoiseach says ‘cautious’ easing of restrictions likely

Calls for more support as Taoiseach says ‘cautious’ easing of restrictions likely

A quiet Cork city during the current restrictions. The Government is likely to take a "conservative and cautious" approach to easing restrictions, the Taoiseach has said. Pic; Larry Cummins

THE Government is likely to take a "conservative and cautious" approach to easing restrictions, the Taoiseach has said.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme yesterday, Micheál Martin said he does not envisage a "major reopening of the economy" on March 5.

"Now that we have the vaccines, it makes sense that we be cautious. 

"It makes sense that we take a conservative view," he said, adding that the Government are working on the basis of a "prolonged suppression of the virus".

Dr. John Sheehan. Picture Dan Linehan
Dr. John Sheehan. Picture Dan Linehan

Speaking to The Echo, former Cork Lord Mayor John Sheehan, a GP at Blackpool Bridge Surgery, said a cautious reopening the country would not be unexpected.

Dr Sheehan said that while Covid case numbers are moving in the right direction, they would need to be "much lower" before society and the economy could fully reopen safely. 

"The way January was, everyone now knows someone who has Covid when I don’t think you could say that was the case six months ago. 

"It spreads so easily within households if one person gets it, it’s nearly inevitable that other household members would get it – not all, but certainly a number, and that’s really what we have seen," he said.

More cases of Covid-19 were reported in January than throughout the entirety of 2020, a fact which shows "just how quickly this disease can spread and how much it can impact public health," Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, stated on Saturday.

The 'beginning of the home stretch'

Speaking yesterday, Dr Sheehan said Ireland could be "at the beginning of the home stretch" in terms of dealing with extensive restrictions. 

"I think things will probably open up before everyone is vaccinated because realistically that is going to take 6-8 months, but certainly, when the most vulnerable people are vaccinated, based on the number of cases we’re going to have, that will certainly allow re-looking at whether we can open up some activities, schools and all of the other things because people are suffering mental health-wise and in other ways," he said.

Mr Martin said yesterday that there has been good overall compliance with the restrictions, which has yielded positive results. 

"The Irish people have responded well to the current set of restrictions and the numbers are coming down very steeply but we need to continue that," he said.

Longer wait for hospitality 

On hospitality, he said that the industry would have to wait for an increased rollout of the vaccine project before it could reopen.

"I think hospitality overall will have to wait longer and will have to wait for an increased rollout of the vaccination programme," he said.

Fergal Harte, general manager of The Kingsley Hotel and chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fergal Harte, general manager of The Kingsley Hotel and chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Speaking to The Echo, Cork Chair of the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) and general manager of The Kingsley Hotel, Fergal Harte, said that while this is accepted, continued and improved supports for the sector are vital to ensuring its survival. 

"We understand that the government and society as a whole have to do everything possible at this stage to try and get the virus under control and we support the measures that the Government has in place in that regard, which we have said from the start.

"The health and safety of everyone involved is our number one priority.

"I think in relation to the vaccines, the issue with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the reduced availability in February and March is certainly an issue and we understand that.

"Hopefully the increased supplies from the other vaccine providers like Pfizer, Moderna and hopefully Johnson & Johnson, I think kind of from April on, will speed that process up and obviously then we can hopefully get society back some way towards normality and get the hospitality sector back open.

"In the meantime, it’s crucial, that government supports are there, that they’re maintained and improved to ensure hotels can survive this period and that there is a hospitality industry to go back to in the summer," he said.

On schools, Mr Martin said yesterday that there will be a "phased reopening" commencing at primary level but that there is "no specific timelines" as yet.

He said the Minister for Education is working with all concerned to get special education open as quickly as possible.

He acknowledged the need to provide clarity on the Leaving Cert situation.

"We do need to bring clarity to that. I accept there’s a lot of stress and anxiety out there but what’s more important is that when there’s an announcement made the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed," he said.

He said there will be a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on education this week. 

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