Stephen Donnelly says response of Irish people in pandemic ‘nothing short of spectacular’

Imposing two weeks of movement restrictions in Laois, Offaly and Kildare in response to a spike in Covid-19 cases was not a blunt instrument to deal with the issue, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
Mr Donnelly said that if this sort of measure had not been introduced for a period it was entirely possible that similar restrictions would have had to be imposed elsewhere in the State again.
He said restrictions had been put in place to save lives, to protect vulnerable people and the local economy. If the Government had not reacted as quickly as it did, the virus could have spread around the country and we would have been right back at the beginning.
The Minister told RTÉs Morning Ireland that it was important to move as quickly and as locally as possible in response to the increase in confirmed cases, many of which related to people working in the meat processing sector.
More than 300 additional cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in Co Kildare in the past fortnight, according to figures provided by the Department of Health earlier this week. The 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in Co Kildare stood at 138.4 cases per 100,000 of population on Monday, almost eight times the national average. The rates in Laois and Offaly were also multiples of the national average.
The response of the Irish people in the pandemic to date has been nothing short of spectacular. The data showed that despite the clusters, the level of community transmission in the State has been very low, he said.
We could be looking at this for nine months to two years before a vaccine comes through so we need to be fully transparent with people.
It has emerged that a new plan for the countrys response to the Covid-19 pandemic will see health officials and the Government strive to get Ireland into a status blue period where the virus is suppressed.
Mr Donnelly said that the new colour coding system which has yellow, orange and red stages would be similar to weather warnings issued by Met Éireann with the added category of blue, which associated with vaccines in the medical world.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is to meet on Wednesday to review the latest trends on Covid-19 and assess the colour coding system.
The meeting comes after 35 new cases were reported on Wednesday, the lowest number of daily cases in almost a fortnight.
Mr Donnelly said a green category had been avoided because of concern about confusion with the green list of countries to which it was possible to travel without having to quarantine on return.
Under this system it would be possible to see how the country or a given county, region or local area was coping with the pandemic, he added. This approach was different, he said, to the phased system used earlier in the pandemic, which related to the passing of time rather than the prevalence of the disease.
On the issue of localised lockdowns, Prof Mary Horgan, president of the Royal College of Physicians Ireland, said public health authorities would have to link in with businesses and the local community rather than broad brush strokes on a country or county basis.
She said the situation in the Midlands provides an opportunity to look at all the information gathered over the 14 days of restrictions, which will have huge implications for the people of the three counties.
Prof Horgan said testing needs to be rapid and agile to determine where clusters of the virus are.
Testing is absolutely fundamental to control the virus, end to end, from testing to contact tracing. Testing needs to be rapid, to be agile, for rapid containment, she told Morning Ireland, adding that if there are delays there is an onus on the HSE to see how testing can be increased rapidly.
This is all about testing and containment, Prof Horgan added. We need to be hunters rather than the prey, we need to stay one step ahead of the virus.
Mr Donnelly defended the testing system and its capacity and said work was being done to make it quicker and quicker.
He added that one or two issues had been identified where testing and tracing operations had been scaled back because we were down to 20 positive tests.
He acknowledged that clinical calls for those who had tested positive were not being processed as quickly as wed like and there had been a two to three day delay.
When asked if he was happy that the State having to provide sick pay to meat plant workers, Mr Donnelly said he was very happy that the State would offer the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Covid-19 related sick pay as it was important that there not be a situation where anybody felt they could not say they were sick because they were afraid they could not pay their bills.
We absolutely cant have that, he said.
One person going into work, in good faith, while sick could infect up to 50 people, he warned. Every employee must feel they can go to their GP, the Minister added.
On the issue of data protection, Mr Donnelly said he did not think there was a problem. It was important that the employee be the first to be told if they had tested positive, but it was also important that the employer know so they could act straight away.