Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government’s medium-term plan is not just about how we will live with Covid-19 but how we will work to renew social, economic and cultural life.
Speaking at the Government news conference, Mr Martin said the plan contains concrete measures to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.
The plan involves a risk-ranking system, from a lowest risk level of one to the highest, full lockdown level five.
The entire country is now considered to be at level two.
Mr Martin said after six months of this pandemic he understands how people are exhausted from thinking about it and coping with it.
“Our country has been able to achieve important progress; schools have reopened and the economic stimulus package is making a very real difference,” he said.
Mr Martin added that in the last 11 weeks over 200,000 people have been able to come off the pandemic payments and go back to work but, he said, most of all we have been able to reconnect with our family and friends.
Until there is an effective vaccine and it has been widely administered we need to live with the reality that Covid-19 is potentially deadly, the Taoiseach commented.
He said a new plan is a whole of Government approach. It is broad and comprehensive with three pillars: protecting health, strengthening employment and supporting communities, Mr Martin said.
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Mr Martin said that every county is at Level 2 restrictions and collective effort is required to get to Level 1.
The Taoiseach said that the Government has decided today that existing public health restricted measures as amended in line with the new Level 2 framework will continue for a further three-week period.
He said the number of Covid-19 cases in Dublin is worrying and the Government has agreed to introduce additional measures to suppress the spread.
Mr Martin also said the Government has decide to support the European Commission proposals on travel.
The Government has approved a €600m winter initiative package to develop and protect health services over the coming months, the Taoiseach stated, adding that it has revised decision-making procedures.
He explained that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will remain a key body providing public health advice to Government but there will be a new group that will co-ordinate proposals on implementing measures.
Mr Martin said he valued the work of NPHET but the new group chaired by the Secretary General of the Taoiseach’s Department will co-ordinate the public health advice and implement measures and permanent co-ordination between departments will be enhanced.
“This is a comprehensive and detailed plan for how we will respond to the ongoing threat of Covid; limiting its deadly impact, allowing us to move forward as a country,” he said.
The news conference was also told the Government has decided to broadly support the European Commission proposals on travel as the best way to stay connected and keep supply chains open.
Mr Martin said the Government will continue to work with member states to come up with a proposal for travel and the current Department of Foreign Affairs travel advisory normal precautions list will be updated.
The Government has agreed to allow limited crowds to attend sporting events under specific conditions.
Mr Martin said creativity is important – and access to theatre and live events will be allowed in small, controlled settings.
The Taoiseach said the plan sets out the Government’s determination to strengthen the country’s recovery – and that the virus “has probed and tested our national character”.
Situation in Dublin ‘worrying’
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar reiterated that by doing the right things we can protect each other. He said he understood that people are feeling frustration and anxious but that nothing is certain about Covid-19.
The country has reason to be hopeful because of what we have learned about the virus and the plan being announced today sets out how we can keep the virus under control, he commented.
Mr Varadkar said that businesses have shown remarkable grit, resolve and adaptability in the face of unprecedented challenges.
He said the Government will continue to back enterprise and protect workers as best it can, and review existing financial supports for businesses in the Budget, paying particular attention to businesses that have had to stay closed.
The Tánaiste also said that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will not be closed to new entrants as had been planned.
Mr Varadkar made a special appeal to the people of Dublin saying the the situation in the capital is “worrying”. The level of the virus in the city and county has increased more than tenfold in the past two months.
If this continues it may not be possible to keep the virus out of nursing homes, hospitals and factories, he added.
He said that for the next few weeks the people of Dublin were being asked to take particular care. He advised them not to welcome any more than one other household into their home, wash their hands and watch their social distancing.
Mr Varadkar said there was also some good news today as in 25 counties pubs will open on 21 September as planned. Pubs that do not serve food will not be allowed to reopen in Dublin, however.
He said 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors will be able to gather in controlled environments and 200 in large stadiums.
Details of health plan to be announced in coming days
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said this road map is about keeping schools and colleges open and to protect lives.
He said Covid-19 is now costing more and taking longer to do less within the health service and because of that, this winter poses the biggest challenge to our healthcare services “in living memory”.
Minister Donnelly said details of the €600m winter support package for healthcare will be launched in the coming days.
He said the winter plan has been designed alongside Sláintecare guidelines and it will aim to care for people in the community as much as possible, to add capacity to hospitals and to provide pathways back to the community for discharged patients.
The minister said the flu vaccine will be distributed very widely and that several thousand people are now being hired to run the testing and tracing system.
Using the example of Kildare, he said “we now know when we move quickly and locally… we can suppress this virus”.
The 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in Dublin for every 100,000 people is 95.1, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s latest report. The next highest is Louth on 66.7.
Leitrim is on 65.5 cases, Limerick 63.1 and Waterford 62. The HPSC figures are up to midnight on 13 September.
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospitals has increased to 64 up from 57 the day before.
Latest overnight figures from the Health Service Executive show that 11 of these patients are in intensive care units.
Yesterday, the Department of Health said 208 more cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 31,192.
No further deaths have been notified. There has been a total of 1,784 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.
No Cabinet discussion on allowing 5,000 at stadiums
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach said in terms of sporting events capacity, the current Level 2 is still quite limited.
He said there was no discussion about allowing 5,000 people into stadiums for sporting events.
Mr Martin said that towards the end of the year there will ongoing engagement with NPHET and the various sectors as to what might be organised in terms of bigger events.
Asked about Christmas and if an exemption would be made around that time the Taoiseach said that this was a six month plan.
The Taoiseach said that the Government would see how much progress can be made over the next three months but Christmas was not discussed today at the Cabinet meeting.
The Government followed advice from NPHET in relation to the decision on Dublin and this would be reviewed again on Thursday, he explained.
He said that NPHET was anxious that the pubs in Dublin would not reopen on 21 September, which was the main key difference with the rest of the country.
He acknowledged that the framework for people would be challenging when it comes to the number of visitors to houses.
Regarding people aged over 70, Mr Martin said it was clear that they were adhering “better than most” to the advice given since the outset of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization says data to date suggests 80% of Covid-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation.
Generally, you need to be 15 minutes or more in the vicinity of an infected person and within two metres of them, to be considered at-risk, or a close contact.