‘We’re better off this year,’ says Taoiseach of virus

Mr Martin said adapting to Omicron hasn’t involved the same level of lockdown as last year, because of vaccination levels, “even though the case numbers are very high”.
‘We’re better off this year,’ says Taoiseach of virus

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin with students Eva Brice, Ronan O’Keeffe, and Una Brice, who are fasting in support of Cork’s SHARE community. Picture: Darragh Kane

“If this was last year, we would be completely shut down now,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said of the Government’s decision to close hospitality at 8pm until after Christmas.

Mr Martin cited the high Covid-19 case numbers compared to last year, but said “we are better off this year”.

“My sense is that there are a number of pillars to dealing with Covid. One is the vaccination programme: It’s been the big gamechanger. We’ve been able to open up since March onwards bit by bit.

“The only area that hasn’t been able to fully open is hospitality, particularly the night-time economy.

“It’s been devastating for hospitality, the arts, for entertainment, and that’s because the virus loves crowds congregating,” he said.

That’s why supports such as the wage subsidy scheme were again reintroduced earlier this week for businesses, he said, adding that these new restrictions and supports ahead of Christmas are representative of “a new phase of dealing with Covid”.

“We have to adapt to the virus as it adapts. There are no guarantees in relation to it. All I would say is that we have to deal with every new phase of the pandemic in a different way. I think we’re doing that.”

Mr Martin said adapting to Omicron hasn’t involved the same level of lockdown as last year, because of vaccination levels, “even though the case numbers are very high”.

He also pointed towards anti-viral medication, expected to come on stream next year.

However, he added a note of caution: “We can’t predict. There are no guarantees, simply because this is a pandemic. It’s a virus that science is working flat out to try and derail, trying to come up with tools to fight it and overcome it.”

Leading during pandemic

In terms of leading the country into a second Christmas while still in a global pandemic, Mr Martin said: “It is very challenging. I think we’ve retained a significant degree of social cohesion. People have been excellent. I want to thank the people of Cork for their resilience, for their capacity to adapt, for responding so well to the vaccination programme and to the booster-vaccine programme.

“The vaccination team in Cork have been superb. The leadership in Cork City Hall has been one of the best in the country,” he added.

“[The last 18 months has] been difficult and it’s been unique in many respects. But, that’s what politics is about: Taking decisions, guiding the country through. We have a good team of people. The Government is working well.

“Covid is a once-in-100-year event. It’s a global pandemic and it has been very challenging. I think Ireland has come through it, so far, relatively well, compared to other countries, particularly in terms of death rates, and in terms of severe illness. That’s something we want to maintain.

“I think we’ve had a world-leading vaccination programme, which has been very well organised. The booster campaign is doing very well also.”

Christmas break

Regarding how he is set to spend the festive season, the Taoiseach said: “I always spend Christmas at home with the family. My brother and his wife will be joining us, so we’ll have a good time.”

Last year, it was just immediate family.

“I’m also looking forward to the days after Christmas: Watching films, reading, getting lots of walks in, maybe getting an odd swim in the sea, and just catching up with family.”

Mr Martin reiterated his thanks to the people of Cork for their “support, kindness, and courtesy throughout the year”.

He said many people in Cork have interacted with him on his regular visits to the English Market and Douglas Market, especially in his 18 months as Taoiseach.

“People have been very kind and decent in their engagements with me. People have been very polite and I appreciate that.

“I want to thank them also for their resilience and their capacity to adapt during the different waves of Covid-19.

“I wish them and their families a safe and a happy Christmas with their loved ones.”

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