The Tánaiste explained that when the virus starts rising in the community, “you then start seeing clusters popping up all over the place”.
Updated 1 hour ago
TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has criticised what he sees as a growing attempt to blame various groups for the spread of Covid-19.
In an interview on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme, Varadkar said that he “regrets” the rise of a new culture of blame surrounding new cases of the virus.
“I would like to say I do kind of regret that in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the kind of issue of blaming people creep into Covid, which we didn’t have before – whether it’s American tourists or young people or migrant workers or particular businesses,” he said.
“You can do everything right as an individual and still get this virus. You can do everything right as an employer and still get a cluster in your business,” he said.
“We have to be careful not to jump to blaming people.”
There has been some criticism of the government’s handling of the issue of Covid-19 clusters in meat plants in recent days, since it was announced that Kildare, Laois and Offaly would face new restrictions in a bid to prevent community transmission of the virus.
Meat factories are a major source of the new cases, with some meat processing plants closing in a bid to stop the spread.
Responding to this criticism of meat factories at the launch of the government’s Restart Grant Plus scheme, Varadkar said “I think it’s wrong to attribute blame”.
We do know that clusters can occur almost anywhere. Most clusters occur actually people’s households and inside residences, and some occur in businesses as well.
So I think it’s important that we actually know the facts and understand the facts before we start finger-pointing.
“I do know that the meat industry has done a huge amount in the past couple of months, and have had no cases for a prolonged period.
When the amount of virus in the community starts rising, you then start seeing clusters popping up all over the place. So the best thing we can do to protect everyone is to go back to basics.
On Saturday, health minister Stephen Donnelly tweeted that the spike in cases in the last week “isn’t about fault”.
“It could just as easily have been in another part of Ireland, or a different setting.”
However, trade unions and opposition parties have asked why the government didn’t do more, at an earlier stage in the crisis, to ensure the virus wasn’t spreading rapidly through meat plants.
Trade union Siptu and representatives of Meat Industry Ireland will meet in Dublin this morning to discuss the outbreaks.
Defending the government’s handling of the issue, Varadkar said that no one knows how exactly the virus spreads in meat plants.
“Even when you put in a lot of these different measures like the shields and the screen and the masks and visors – one plant in Germany even has its own testing facility – they still had outbreaks. This is a real problem and it’s going to be a continuing problem.”
More businesses qualify for more money
Later this morning, Varadkar launched the opening of applications for the government’s Restart Grant Plus scheme at Thomas Patrick’s show store on Grafton Street.
The grant is intended to support small to medium businesses like Thomas Patrick, in their attempts to reopen in the next few months.
Varadkar said that the government expects tens of thousands of applications for the scheme, which is run by local councils, after the scheme was widened “so more companies qualify, and they get more [money].”
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The maximum grant available to businesses will be €25,000, with the minimum set at €4,000. This compares to a previous maximum of €10,000 and a minimum of €2,000.
“We’ll try and make it as bureaucratic as possible,” Varadkar said, adding that it should take two weeks from the date of applying before they know if they have qualified for the grant.
When asked whether there were additional supports available for businesses in Kildare, Offaly and Laois, which cannot have customers indoors for the next two weeks, Varadkar says the schemes in place are already “calibrated” to help businesses who need it the most.
More companies in those three counties are probably going to qualify for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme now, he said, but added that he is to meet with Chambers of Commerce this afternoon to see if more needs to be done.
– with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha