The Taoiseach has hinted that the Government will not move to lock down parks and public spaces as part of its response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Leo Varadkar was speaking after large groups of people were seen visiting beaches and walking trails around the country yesterday.
Car parks in Wicklow and the midlands were yesterday shut down amid fears that some people were not observing social distancing while out walking.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will now consider whether to recommend new restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggests that a full lockdown is not the way the Irish government is going to approach things. Advice due from CMO tomorrow pic.twitter.com/LqMN4AAwaj
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) March 23, 2020
“There were scenes over the weekend of very crowded parks and very crowded public places,” said Mr Varadkar.
“Now in fairness to those people, I think they probably turned up not realising how crowded they were going to be – so I don’t think we should be berating people about this.
“But we have asked the Chief Medical Officer and the National Public Health Emergency Team to examine that with a view to coming up with more recommendations for Government tomorrow.”
He said a full lock-down could potentially make things worse in the long-run.
“I am minded by what Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO said over the weekend,” he said.
“What he said was that some countries are focusing a but too much on lockdown and if you have a very sharp lockdown and then reverse it, the virus might come roaring back.
“What you need is comprehensive strategy involving social distancing, testing, contact tracing and isolation of those the test positive – very much what they have done in South Korea.”
Parks and wildlife
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary at the Department of An Taoiseach, said there are currently no plans to close public spaces or parks.
She said the Government has received a high level of feedback from people concerned that others are not following social distancing correctly.
She said officials will meet with park operators today.
“We will be meeting by teleconference with relevant public authorities including the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Coillte, the Heritage Council and local authorities to provide clear public messaging so we can enjoy these public spaces safely at this time,” she said.
Do you want to save lives? Do you want to support our frontline health staff? Do you want to keep your family safe? Do you want to get our country through the next few weeks and months? Then do this! Keep your distance. Stay away #coronavirus #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/kaseiA87Wx
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 22, 2020
On Newstalk Breakfast earlier, the Health Minster Simon Harris said the NPHET would consider new guidelines – but urged the public to buy into the regulations that are already there.
“The advice is crystal clear,” he said.
“If you are in your workplace, if you are at home, if you are in your community today; that two-metre distance we are trying to keep is about saving people’s lives.”
Pointing to the number of deaths reported in Italy over the weekend, he said: “We have got to take this seriously.”
“I know many people are but we really all have to help each other out in this because we truly are all in this together.
“What you decide to do will have a direct impact on my family.”
The HSE has published a list of things people should do to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19.
The social distancing guidelines include:
- Keep a space of 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and other people
- Reducing interactions with people outside the workplace and home
- Reducing the number of people you meet every day
- Avoiding communal sleeping areas
- Avoiding crowded places
- Working from home if possible
People are warned not to shake hands or make close contact where possible.