‘Weather warning’ colour code system to replace Covid-19 phases

Updated 10:20am. Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.

Different areas of the island will be given a colour-coded status akin to weather warnings depending on its levels of Covid-19, under a new Government plan to manage the virus.

The new plan for the coming months agreed at a Cabinet sub-committee yesterday will see Government move away from the current “phased” approach to reopening the country, though New Zealand’s approach of fully eliminating the virus will not be adopted.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly explained that the new colour coding system for Covid-19 will have an aimed-for category of blue, which is the colour of vaccines in the medical world.

Though the plan will aim for a “status blue” period in the country where the virus is suppressed, this will only come into effect when vaccinations or a breakthrough medical treatment become available.

Other codes include red, orange and yellow. The Minister said a “green” category had been avoided because of concern about it being confused with the green list of countries to which it is possible to travel without having to quarantine on return.

Targeting lockdowns

Under the new colour coding system it will be possible to see how the country, a county, a region or a local area is doing, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The Minister also explained that the colour coding system was different from the “phased” approach to reopening the country’s society and economy, which involved a specific time period with a timeline attached.

It emerged yesterday that a programme of serial testing at meat plants and direct provision centres was also agreed at the Cabinet sub-committee meeting, which saw Ministers discuss plans for living with Covid-19 in Ireland for the next nine months.

Economic measures for the three Midlands counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly currently in local lockdowns were also discussed at the meeting.

Mr Donnelly today denied that introducing the local restrictions had been “a blunt instrument,” saying that if the Government had not reacted as quickly the virus could have spread “around the country” and “we would have been right back at the beginning.”

It was important to move as quickly and as locally as possible, he said.

The Cabinet sub-committee is set to meet again next week, where work will begin on a medium-term plan to keep the economy as open as possible while keeping community transmission low.

It comes as the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) are due to meet later today to discuss the recent spike in the Midlands and the clusters in meat factories.

The Government’s plan to ban non-essential travel from countries with high rates of the virus is also likely to be on the agenda later today.