Some senior sources have raised concerns about whether the 5km rule will be lifted.
TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government “gets it” and understands that people are “fed up”.
His comments come as doubt is cast over whether the 5km travel restriction will be eased next month amid concerns by some in Cabinet over the country’s progress and the plateauing of case numbers.
While some senior sources have raised questions over whether the 5km rule will be lifted after 5 April, others have told The Journal the speculation is “a distraction” and “bull”.
The current Level 5 restrictions are due to be reviewed the week before 5 April.
Speaking in Cork this morning, the Taoiseach said in advance of the 5 April the government would announce the next phase in terms of what will happen with restrictions.
He would not speculate on what would be eased but pointed out that in his last address to the public, he said the government would look at easing the 5km restrictions, as well as reopening the construction sector, and some outdoor and sporting activities.
“We do understand and get it that people are fed up but I want to thank people. People have been remarkable,” he said.
The work done by the public has brought case numbers down from a high level to “relatively low levels”, he said, while also acknowledging the figures are higher than he would like.
The government understands where people are at, he said, but added that the pressure has been taken off the hospitals because of the hard work by the public.
Clear indications as to what April will look like will be given in advance of that date, he said, adding that the government is “reflecting” particularly on what outdoor activities might be possible next month.
Sources who have raised concerns about the 5km were keen to highlight that it is speculative and that no formal government discussion or decision has taken place.
Similar to last May, government advice might allow people to meet outdoors in larger groups, but within their 5km, one source suggested.
However, one senior source poured cold water on the matter today, stating that media reports on the 5km issue today were “bull”. Another said they did not think much of reports on the matter this morning.
Another senior government source said the country is “vulnerable” and at a “crossroads”, particularly after increased activity over last week with good weather, Mother’s Day and St Patrick’s Day.
However, they highlighted that the Government is “conscious of keeping people on board” and of the need for outdoor activity, such as walking, running and the need for outdoor sport.
They said they are concerned that people are taking a chance by having people into their homes, which results in indoor socialising, as it is risking matters, but said they understand that some are doing this as they need it mentally at this point.
Government will link any easing of restrictions to various key indicators, such as the vaccine programme, they said, stating that mid-May will be the key point.
The source also raised concerns that the government was slipping back to being on the verge of “mixed messaging”, which they have been keen to avoid.
Another source said the government must decide if they are bringing in rules that people will follow or whether they are bringing in a set of rules knowing that whatever they are, people will break them a bit.
Anger over calls to ‘do more’
Meanwhile amid criticism of calls for people to ‘do more’, the Taoiseach says he believes improvement can be made in ‘flat-lining’ Covid-19 numbers.
While stating that government understands the sacrifices people have made, as well as the impact on peoples’ mental health, the Taoiseach urged people to avoid congregating together, particularly indoors.
“We are not dealing with the same virus as we were in wave one or two,” he said, stating that with the arrival of the new variant before Christmas the virus is now more transmissable, particularly indoors.
He said the government doesn’t want to be in position where services and businesses are reopened, and then have to be closed subsequently.
He said the volume of vaccines will increase “very significantly” over quarter two and “we will be in a good space” by the middle of the year.
His comments come amid anger on social media following remarks from NPHET at last night’s press conference calling on people to “do just a little bit more” over the next few weeks.
“If every individual can do just that little bit more over the next few weeks we will stop another wave,” Deputy CMO Ronan Glynn said.
Senator Sharon Keoghan was among those taking to Twitter after the remarks last night, stating: “There’s nothing left in the tank to give.”
She said maybe “NPHET need to do more”, suggesting there have been failures in the track and trace system, failures in the vaccine roll out as well as issues relating to international travel and the protection of those in nursing homes.
Meanwhile UCD Public Policy Professor Aidan Regan tweeted that the “messaging and narrative needs to change”.
“There’s a limit to how much people will tolerate a finger-waving approach telling them how to behave,” he said.
This is not the first time the authorities have been accused of messaging being out of touch, or causing more anxiety in society.
The government was also criticised for information about lockdown restrictions seeping out in dribs and drabs in recent months
Reacting to the speculation around the 5km rule, Labour leader Alan Kelly said it is a diversion and distraction from the delayed resumption of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said the focus should be on how the 30,000 missed appointments this week can be caught up with.
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US vaccine supply
Kelly has also called on the Taoiseach to tell the public if he broached the subject of a supply of some vaccines from the US during his call with President Biden.
The Labour leader said the Taoiseach has been trying to skip the question, asking “why won’t he answer the question?”
“If you don’t ask, you’ll never find out,” he said.
His comments come after the US president announced he plans to send millions of doses to neighbouring countries Mexico and Canada.
The Taoiseach said today that he had a very wide ranging discussion on vaccines with the US president on St Patrick’s Day.
“What he say, what he made very clear to us was, that he was waiting until the end of May to establish that they would have a supply, a sufficiency of supply for the entire US population before they would discuss the sharing out of vaccines and that was a very clear message that he said,” Martin told reporters today.
“He [President Biden] did reference, to be fair, Canada and Mexico,” said Martin.
“Obviously they are very close neighbours and have challenges of their own, particularly in Mexico.
The Taoiseach said the key point he made to the president is the importance of keeping supply chains open for the manufacture and production of vaccines.