Leo Varadkar has criticised the British Government’s plan to strip away most of England’s coronavirus restrictions, saying the move is “too risky”.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his Downing Street press conference on Monday afternoon to set out what Step 4 of his plans to end lockdown restrictions in England will look like.
From July 19th mask-wearing will no longer be a legal requirement under the plans, nor will social distancing in most cases, and nightclubs will be able to reopen.
Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday, the Tánaiste said that if things go wrong in England, it could have a spillover effect in Ireland.
“What was announced in England yesterday in my view was too risky.
“The prospect of packed theatres in the West End and nightclubs in Manchester being packed to the rafters is one that would concern us in this country quite frankly,” the Fine Gael leader said.
“If things go wrong in England, it will have a spillover effect in Ireland and on our other neighbours.
“They are saying they can withstand 50,000 cases a day without having a serious impact on the NHS and I think that’s a bit of a gamble and it’s a gamble we are not going to take here.
“We need to avoid getting back into a spiral of fear here. The Delta wave is happening but it will be different to other waves and that’s because of the vaccination programme.
“A thousand cases a day, even 2,000 cases a day in a few weeks’ time is not the same as a thousand cases a day back in January, that’s because the link between the cases of infections and hospitalisations and deaths – and that’s what really matters – is considerably weakened, not broken.
“Bear in mind if the number of people in ICU trebled, it would still be less than 50 people in ICU, and we were easing restrictions when there were 50 people in ICU.
“If the number of people in hospitals quadrupled, it’s still about 200 people in hospital in a system with 11,000 beds.
“We need to make sure we understand this Delta wave is going to be different, it’s a wave that is happening but is one we can withstand and that is what we intend to do through vaccination, through an appropriate level of restrictions and through testing, trace and isolate.”
Mr Varadkar said people will see daily case numbers rise dramatically over the next few weeks but added that it will not be the same as previous waves.
“Get the vaccine and make sure you get the second dose,” he added.
“This wave is one we can weather through vaccinations. We need to avoid a cycle of fear.”
Mr Varadkar also said the Government’s decision to postpone the reopening of indoor dining was the right one.
He said the decision to delay the resumption will give the health service more time to vaccinate the public and bring in the domestic digital Covid certificate to permit indoor hospitality.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Alan Kelly said there is “division and confusion” among public service sectors on the use of antigen testing.
Mr Kelly told the Dáil that Government departments are still going back and forth with pilots.
“After Christmas the Department of Transport had no problem using these for Irish lorry drivers going to France, and last week the Department of Agriculture used antigen testing for 4,000 people in a pilot festival at Kilmainham and one person tested positive,” Mr Kelly added.
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“The Minister for Health (Stephen Donnelly) has now come up with another group on the use of antigen testing.
“A lot of people will be asking why Denmark can make 500,000 antigen tests available a day but after months back and forth we are still engaging with pilots.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that antigen testing was on the Government agenda today, and that he will await a report from Professor Mary Horgan who is heading a group to progress the use of rapid antigen testing.
“(The group) will advise Government departments and agencies and other sectors of the economy in respect of how to best deploy antigen testing in certain settings,” Mr Martin added.