A new medium-term Government plan to deal with Covid-19 will be introduced on September 14th, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has told the Dáil.
The Green Party leader said the plan is “as important as if not more important than the Budget to my mind”. He said they had to prepare for the next six, 12, 18 months of the pandemic as he defended the Government’s approach to coronavirus testing and tracing, amid concerns for the growing number of cases of the disease.
Part of the plan will include international travel and he said they were looking at the international experience where they had testing arrangements that “may allow us to waive the requirement for 14 days restriction on travel” when someone comes into the State.
Mr Ryan was responding to Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall who accused the Government of “not playing its part” as the public was foregoing so much of “normal life” and the business community was “paying an enormous price” because of the pandemic.
She said there was a failure to ensure an effective testing and tracing system for proper controls at airports and ports and the Government’s response had been “wholly inadequate”.
The Dublin North-West TD there had also been a failure to provide open information and data and despite the policy of test, trace and isolate she did not believe the State had its claimed capacity for 100,000 tests a week. “That has never been achieved.”
The Government “must be open with the public because you have to keep the public with you. Actions that are being taken at the moment simply are not understandable because they are not backed up by any kind of data.”
Staff were being redeployed from audiology and other key services to prop up the testing and tracing system but she asked “when are we going to have an effective testing and tracing system. When are we going to have proper controls in relation to international travel.”
Testing and tracing
Insisting the Government is acting coherently, Mr Ryan said he was confident the HSE is managing and has the capability in the testing and tracing regime.
He said 58,000 tests were carried out last week targeted mainly the key areas including nursing homes and meat plants. There were 200 contact tracing staff and the turnaround time for tests was down to 2.2 days.
Mr Ryan added that “to date the level of virus coming from travel is very low”.
He said the Government has to start preparing for the next six, nine and 18 months.
Aviation and international travel was part of protecting livelihoods and “we do need connectivity”.
He acknowledged the need for openness and transparency in all the figures but they had to be careful that with complete openness and transparency in the figures there could be “stigmatisation of certain communities where it might exist”.
But Ms Shortall said “these lines are being trotted out” by everyone in Government but did not stand up to scrutiny.
She said that last week 57 per cent of the total capacity in testing was used and “this is the highest percentage ever used. So where is this 100 per cent.”
The Minister told her that the priority is making sure the medium term plan is fit for purpose because “how we manage this will allow a return to some normality of life”.