TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said restrictions on the public’s movement could be eased once the Covid-19 epidemic in Ireland goes beyond the peak, which he hopes will be in the coming weeks.
Mr Varadkar said there will not be one specific point at which all restrictions will be lifted and life will return to normal, but said it would be a more gradual approach.
Speaking at Government Buildings Mr Varadkar said when the peak of Covid-19 cases is reached and the number of new cases starts falling consistently then some of the restrictions can be eased.
“So we won't be in a situation whereby I suddenly go on TV and make an address the nation and say everything's going back to the way it was on the 11th March, that's probably not what's gonna happen,” he said.
“What is likely to happen is that the number of new cases will continue to rise, we'll reach the peak - hopefully that will be in a few weeks time and not in a few months time - and the number of new cases will start to fall, and we'll reach the point where we can start to ease some of the restrictions, and then see what happens.”
Mr Varadkar said restrictions have been eased in China in recent weeks but that it was still seeing an increase in imported cases from overseas. “So we’re going to have to see how this goes over the next period ahead,” he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers his address to the nation concerning the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Mark Condren
He said the Government had to be careful about easing restrictions because of the risk that public places like restaurants “might be flooded”. He said all plans could ultimately change as “we’re all still learning about the virus”.
Professor Philip Nolan from NUI Maynooth is due to provide an update on the latest modelling and estimates of how many cases the State can be expected to be dealing with in the coming weeks later on Monday. This modelling data will be updated and shared with the public on a weekly basis.
Mr Varadkar also said the Government has no plans to close the borders but that the National Public Health Emergency Team will examine additional restrictions or controls that can be applied to people coming into the country which will be announced in the coming days.
Mr Varadkar also insisted that the Government has not nationalised private hospitals after the Government reached a deal to use the facilities for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. He described a deal struck with the Private Hospitals Association as a “public-private partnership” for a period of three months and can be extended beyond this on a mutually-agreed basis.
“Under the agreements, the HSE will secure 100pc of the capacity of private hospitals, the private hospitals would operate as public hospitals for the duration, treating both Covid-19, and other patients, and all patients treated in private hospitals under this arrangement would be public patients,” he said.
The State will pay the operating costs of the hospitals which will be used to treat both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients.
Mr Varadkar said that it is not possible to indicate how much this will cost but that the figure will be verified by an independent firm of accountants and there will be an arbitration mechanism in the event of any disagreement.
The acquisition of the use of 19 private hospitals amounts to roughly 17pc of the capacity of the public health service. It includes an estimated 1,900 inpatient beds, 600 daybeds as well as 47 ICU and 54 HDU beds. This includes nearly 1,000 single bed inpatient rooms. The sector also has 194 ventilators as well as 9 laboratory services on sites.
The Private Hospitals Association welcomed the deal. Its chairman, Dr Josh Keaveny, said: “The Association has worked intensively and in good faith to arrive at today’s agreement and will work in close partnership with the HSE in optimising private and public hospital capacity throughout the country in response to this unprecedented situation during the Covid-19 pandemic period.”