TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has said restrictions on public movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic may need to be extended beyond the current April 12 deadline.
Mr Coveney said people need to realise that current restrictions, which advise people to stay at home except in limited circumstances, may not end in just over a week’s time.
“I think people do need to realise that these restrictions may go on for sometime and it’s wrong to put a timeline on it,” he said.
“We’ve set an initial period but I think it may well be that we will need to go beyond that initial deadline. But again that will be a decision taken with the best public health advice that we can get.”
The current effective lockdown on the Irish public was introduced last Friday and is due to expire on April 12. Mr Coveney was speaking ahead of a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Covid-19 on Thursday. He said the Government would continue to take advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the National Public Health Emergency Team.
The Fine Gael minister also said that while the HSE is doubling bed capacity and would be able to add an extra 10,000 beds to the health system it is not certain that this will be enough to deal with a surge in Covid-19 cases.
He said that while the spread of the virus was below what the expectation was two weeks ago, it would be wrong to be complacent.
“What the HSE is doing is doubling bed capacity in the space of a couple of weeks to add, if we need it, an extra 10,000 beds to the system.
“They're not obviously all equivalent to hospital beds, but they are beds that can take huge pressure off the conventional hospital system to actually create space in our hospitals for patients if we see a dramatic increase in the number of people that need hospital care, as we expect we will.
“We don't know yet whether it's going to be enough. But what we can say is, the more discipline the public shows, in terms of complying with the restrictions and the guidelines that we have asked them to comply with, then the higher the likelihood that our health system is going to be able to deal with the peak of this crisis when it happens.”
Mr Coveney said that there are now 1,400 people trained to work in contact tracing and this is now being applied to people who are awaiting a test. He said that social distancing, washing your hands and complying with guidelines matter as they are going to save lives.
Mr Coveney was speaking at Government Buildings where ‘The Community Call’ was launched. The major local and national initiative involves the HSE, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, the Red Cross, the Civil Defence, GAA, IFA, LocalLink, the Migrant Forum, church organisations and others who will coordinate to provide support to those in need in the coming weeks.
Mr Coveney also said that Fine Gael’s government talks were ongoing following “a good day with Fianna Fáil” on Wednesday. He said the two parties were trying to negotiate a framework document that he hoped could persuade other parties to join a coalition.
He said the next government needs a majority and a plan to “come out the other end” of the current crisis by getting people back to work, and helping families and communities “to heal”, and to plan for the next number of years.
“My belief is that Ireland does need a government that has a majority and has the mandate and the authority to be able to give leadership through this very difficult period, but also planning for what comes next because not being able to do that will lead to uncertainty that the country could really do without right now given the pressures that we face,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of the UK applying for an extension to the Brexit trade talks with the EU given the global pandemic, Mr Coveney said he hoped Boris Johnson’s government would be “pragmatic”.
“The timelines for Brexit before Covid-19 emerged on the scene were extraordinarily ambitious and very difficult to comply with. So let's wait to see how that conversation develops,” he said.
“On Brexit, they'll make their own decisions as they always do. But I do think that in the medium term the consequences of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations are extraordinarily important for Britain, for Ireland and for the EU collectively.
“I think we need to ensure that the time and space is available to be able to do that properly and right now there are other priorities, quite frankly, to keep people alive that should be the focus of government attention.”
He said the EU would respond “generously” to any request for an extension which must be made by June.