'Hold firm,' says Taoiseach, decision next week on phase two of roadmap

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: 'Let’s keep making the sacrifices we are making so the trend continues to go in the right direction.' Picture: Brian Lawless

A decision on moving to the next phase of Ireland’s roadmap will be made next week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has pushed the Government to change the guidance around physical distancing in order to allow the quicker reopening of the economy.

Mr Varadkar said while the slower growth in the number of new cases was encouraging, no decisions would be made this week.

“On Monday we reached a significant milestone when we had no new deaths to report,” he told the Dáil. “I want more days of hope like this.

“Today’s message is to hold firm. Let’s keep making the sacrifices we are making so the trend continues to go in the right direction.

“Any announcement on whether we go to phase two, or whether we make any changes to the plan, will wait until the 5th of June. We will wait until we have more data and more expert advice. In the meantime, we will hold firm and we will prevail.”

Mr Martin said the guidance that people stay two metres apart, which has been the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Government since the outbreak of Covid-19, could not be allowed to “block” the resumption of economic activity.

“In relation to the two-metre guidance, which it has been acknowledged is not required by the science, it has been helpful but it cannot be allowed to block Ireland restarting activity which is already underway elsewhere without a negative impact,” he said.

The World Health Organisation recommends people keep at least one metre from each other.

Mr Martin also repeated his belief that the guidelines around the distance a person can travel from their home and which shops are allowed to open are “arbitrary”.

“The evidence is that there remains broad and strong compliance amongst the public when it comes to measures they have been told are essential — 80% are staying home and few in urban areas are moving more than 5km from their homes.

“There is no remaining serious justification for the 5km limit. The public health concern is how people behave around others, not how far they are from their home. In fact, the research shows that this limit may, in fact, be forcing people in urban areas into more crowded situations.

“Equally, the current distinctions between different types of shop are at best arbitrary. Supermarkets have been open throughout the pandemic while implementing measures about distancing and hygiene.

Mr Varadkar said a decision on the pandemic unemployment payment may have to be made by the next government. The €350 weekly payment is due to expire on June 8, but Mr Varadkar confirmed it will continue past this date.

He told the Dáil the decision to extend it may not be made by the current Government.

“The economy is only slowly opening up now and it is going to have to be extended,” he said. “Nobody needs to worry, the payment expires if you get your job back but anyone who has not been offered their job back will continue to receive the payment beyond June.”