The Government does not know the “exact number” of daily Covid-19 cases that will indicate an acceptable level for the country to reopen at, the Tánaiste has said.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Leo Varadkar said a more detailed plan on the reopening of the Republic's society and economy will be provided in two weeks’ time.
His comments come after the Taoiseach said that strict restrictions are likely to continue until at least Easter, with a phased reopening of schools and construction the Government’s priority.
Mr Varadkar said there was “little point” in reopening sectors of the economy, only to shut them again a few weeks later if Covid-19 cases began to rise.
“We need to get numbers down very low, as low as is possible, before we can safely reopen our society and our economy again, and I believe that’s what all of us want and that’s what all of us want in this House,” Mr Varadkar said.
“There’s little point in reopening things that you then have to close three weeks later, and that’s why we need to get numbers down as low as we possibly can.
“We just don’t know exactly what that is currently, in the current context.”
He added that other indicators would be taken into account alongside daily case figures, such as the number of people in hospital, intensive care units (ICU), and beds available.
Mr Varadkar also warned of the potential for legal issues over mandatory hotel quarantining for travellers arriving at Irish ports and airports, The Irish Times reports.
It could be argued that it would be “disproportionate to impose mandatory hotel quarantine on people who don’t have Covid”, when the State does not do that to people resident in Ireland who have the virus, he told Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy.
Ms Murphy said it was very difficult for people to talk about quarantining being disproportionate, as the public see that “it’s okay for people to go on holidays, [but] they can’t send their kids to school. That’s why it’s hard.”
There really isn’t any strategy unfortunately that avoids the risk of rolling lockdowns, or snap lockdowns
She asked how the Government would decide an acceptable level of Covid-19 cases before the economy is reopened.
In response, Mr Varadkar said: “There really isn’t any strategy unfortunately that avoids the risk of rolling lockdowns, or snap lockdowns”.
He pointed to Perth in Australia which is a pursuing a zero-Covid strategy, but last week saw “one or two cases of community transmission” that resulted in a lockdown of the city.
“If we applied the same policy here we would probably have snap lockdowns every week or every two weeks, every three weeks,” Mr Varadkar said, referencing issues presented by the Border with Northern Ireland.
The Government is set to unveil its plan for managing the pandemic the week after next, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Thursday morning, but he warned against expectations of anything other than a limited reopening.