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That pot Kenny show on Newstalk. Face masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, we're all doing our best to keep the coronavirus under control, but are we doing enough? Is the answer stricter guidelines or perhaps tougher enforcement of restrictions already in place? Well, we're joined on the line by the Minister for Health and Fitness for Duty for Wikler Stephen Dunolly.
And Minister, good morning. Pat, good morning. Now let's talk about what legislation is proposed, because it's all about how do you control people who do not wish to adhere to advisory guidelines?
So what will it be before cabinet? And what do you hope to pass? So there are two pieces of legislation that we will be looking to pass. One has already come through cabinet. It was agreed in the last few days that was Minister McKenty will be bringing forward legislation to give the guard more powers to shut down premises, which are not complying with the the guidelines be at weapons or other premises. Similarly, I will be bringing a piece of legislation to cabinet first.
It needs Cabinet approval, but essentially what it will do is make it possible to apply graduated fines for enforcement issues. The big problem we have with the law at the moment part is the covid regulations are based on the 1947 Health Act and unfortunately that act has only one scheduled for if something is or is not what they call a penal provision. In other words, if there is a penalty attached to it and that penal provision is for a fine of up to two and a half times Enduro and or a prison sentence of six months.
Now, clearly that is completely disproportionate to the sorts of infringements we're looking at and I would argue is not in the spirit of the solidarity that we've had and that we need. So what I'm going to be seeking is amending legislation to essentially insert a new schedule into the 1947 act. So for face coverings, for example, maybe we can have 20 euro fines, 40 euro fines for the house parties where we believe there is a genuine public health issue, that there are more appropriate fines so that we can say, look, it is against the law.
There are proportionate penalties for us and we're not relying on this at penal provision that is over 70 years old, that simply isn't isn't fit for purpose.
So in terms of the house parties, how would that actually work in practice? What we decide is in the short term was not to attach any penalty to the restrictions on gatherings in people's homes for two reasons, really, we're very cognizant of the sanctity of the home in our society. And secondly, for the reason I gave you that the only option right now would have been to apply it very draconian power from 73 years ago, which we felt was disproportionate.
When we bring in the amending legislation that might attach fines, we can take a look and see if we want to give the guard the enforcement powers there. For now, what we've decided to do is make it clear that it is a legal requirement. So it is in the regulations that I have signed this is that we can't have more than six additional people over to our house from more than three households. And so so it is a legal requirement.
Would anyone know? No.
I mean, are you depending on the value of the squinting windows, someone next door to say I saw eight people go into that house, give the guards a call?
I mean, I think it seems to be like, you know, we want national solidarity and this is what we want to do. And we have the ultimate sanctions if we need to employ them.
But how how would it happen? I just wonder what the mechanism is by which these new powers would be employed.
I think that's exactly right, Pat, is this if we if we end up in a world where enforcement is required, we will lose the battle against covid-19. And one of the things we have seen very strongly in this country is solidarity. The approach that has been taken on a lot of the legal requirements that have been brought in to date is, as we now have for the gatherings in people's houses, is to say we need absolute clarity. So people need to know that it is a legal requirement, therefore it is contained in the regulations.
However, we are not attaching penalties for the reasons we've discussed because, as you say, enforcement is very, very difficult. We don't want a society where people are snooping on each other and spying on each other. And the only penalty provision right now is completely disproportionate. What we do want is a situation where the GARDY can act if necessary, where there is clearly a public health risk related to covid. So I'll give you a real example. There was a house party some weeks ago where one poor unfortunate guy went in.
He was asymptomatic. Absolutely not his fault. He had no idea he had covered. When he walked out a few hours later, about 30 other people left the house also infected. So what we want to make sure is that that sort of behavior at the moment, while covid cases in the country are still are still rising, that there's a very clear message sent out saying, please don't do this. You're putting yourself at risk. You're putting the people at risk for other people.
Absolutely. I can understand all of that. But you get a guy going into a house party, 30 people there, one of those great house parties in Cork, 220 house parties since it began in one particular Road magazine road, isn't it? So a guy goes in 30 people there. Maybe they're quiet enough. They're not shouting and roaring.
But, you know, you can still have that situation where he infects 20 or 30 other people. I just don't see how that's going to change anything. The powers I mean, are the guards going to say, look in through the window, hear the noise, see 30 or 40 people in the front room? Can they go in and say this is a public health menace, we're shutting you down? And they do that.
They they can't go in, but nor could they have gone in if we had attached a penal provision to it. So you a guard must have a warrant to enter our house. There's there's a vote now. I'm not a lawyer, but the advice I have is that, you know, there are very clear protections, quite rightly in place about the guards being able to enter anybody's house. But remember, past the approach we're taking is one of solidarity and unclarity to say, let's be very clear, the public health advice to me and to government.
And therefore, what is now the law is that we don't have more than six people over to our house on top of the people in that.
I'm just thinking basically, you know, in order to get the message across, you know, we heard Professor Anthony Stain's saying we have to find new ways of getting the message across to young people. They don't read newspapers.
They don't listen to radio or even watch live television. It's all on their phones or whatever.
There needs to be a way. I can tell you, if the guards walked in to a party and shut it down and fined everybody because they're too close to each other and they're not wearing masks, they were to get a very, very quickly to the party cohort that this is what the guards are capable of doing. But you're saying that they're not capable of doing that.
And I don't know if there's any provision for a night judge to be available so they can get a quick warrant if they need one, say, in half an hour, they go to this judge or even do it digitally, because that can be done in all sorts of ways.
They ring up the judge. They say, I would need a warrant for number 42, whatever it is we're going in.
I mean, so you don't have to do that every night. You do it once and the word is out. Yeah.
So I think two things. They're apart. I think, first of all, the guards already have significant powers under existing laws around public order and and so forth.
But secondly, you know, young people are getting a bad name for non-compliance and and it's not true and it's not fair. And the data doesn't back it up because we now live in a world of social media where everyone is walking around with with a with a video recorder in their pocket. Whenever there is a breach like we saw down in Kalani or we you know, we saw on salt till a few weeks ago. And it's instantly all over the Internet and everyone is looking at us and saying, isn't this a disgrace?
The evidence we have very clearly is that there is a huge level of compliance that all age groups all over the country, we I have I have data in just in the last few days showing more than 90 percent compliance on face masks. For example, the vast, vast, vast majority of men and women in this country of all ages are complying to a very high level. Why are the numbers going up with the guidelines if compliance is improving?
Why are the numbers going up?
So the numbers are going up for the same reason they're going up all over Europe. So we had very. Harsh measures in place, as did the rest of Europe. We flattened the curve, that was the strategy. That was really chapter one. What happened in Ireland is what's happened right across the world, which is as those harsher measures were relaxed and as our number of social interactions went up, and maybe some people are saying maybe as as we all got a little bit fatigued and maybe we we had less adherence to social distancing and the hand washing for a while.
The case is here as around Europe, as in Australia and New Zealand, everywhere else started to go up and up. It's why we moved early about two weeks ago to say, OK, that we need to refocus. Folks, this is a you know, we had a tough time and flattening the curve. I think everyone probably relaxed a bit during the summer months when we need to refocus. Now, we need to we need to get serious about the measures and what we're seeing.
We had a very high number yesterday, obviously over 200. But the chief medical officer was at pains to point out that the five day rolling average has now stabilised at around 100 cases a day. So it's early days. But the early indications are that the national measures brought in in the last two weeks and the efforts people are making are working to stabilize the situation. We also know part obviously with fantastic news for air where we were able to lift the restrictions a week early.
And with everything that happened with Goles case, that really important message got got missed by us all last week. Was was that because of the work of the people in L'Escalier and Ofili? What we now know for the first time is that when you move early and in a localised manner with less restrictive measures than we've seen before, it turns out they work.
So how do you see lockdown's going forward? I mean, you were the one who talked about, you know, the tipping points and whether or not we should have a national lockdown. Is it policy now that you kind of bring the fire brigade to bear on local lockdowns?
I mean, the one in the news recently, yesterday and the day before, Skerries and a group of people who went off on the, you know, Mark Dabbs in a bus and then a number of them became infected and so on, and now the bars are closed and so on. Is that what you'll do? You'll say it's not Dublin, it's Skerries.
Let's lock down Skerries. A road map is being developed at the moment to be published in about two weeks time, which will layout exactly how that's going to work, but certainly the public health view is thus localized restrictions. We obviously are better than national restrictions. We now know from collaboration awfully that they work at speed is very, very important as well. What we're seeing at what we saw in Kildare is a wave in workplaces and we know it was the meat processing plants.
We then saw a second wave in households. So essentially the virus moved from workplaces to households. And what we were afraid would happen and why the measures were brought in was to stop the third wave, which would have been nursing homes, more vulnerable people. That's what we saw in Florida. So this will be seeing and I mean, Maria, you don't have the detail yet.
It'll be published in two weeks time. But what sort of a document will it be? I mean, what's it going to lay down? Is it going to say if A happens? Well, then we do B if C happens, we do D, what's what's going to be in the roadmap?
I prefer not to get drawn on it right now because it is still a draft and it hasn't been brought to cabinet for discussion. But to put the public health piece of it is very much around very quick and comprehensive contact tracing, testing and contact tracing. Knowing where the virus is spreading in terms of is at house parties is this particular types of social events? Is a particular types of workplaces being able to move very quickly? My belief is that localized restrictions are important.
We now know they work and obviously they they prevent the broader national measures that are required. Have you contemplated in certain areas a curfew? I'm thinking of that street in Cork, that road in Cork where 220 and counting house parties happened since the outbreak and you just say, sorry, magazine road in Cork or whatever it is, a curfew.
Nobody out and about what happens after 11 o'clock. No, I can tell you in all of the letters I've had from Nafiz since I came into this role about two months ago, no, there's never been any discussion of curfews.
Now, a couple of things in schools. I was pushing the minister for Education, Norma Foley, to try and get the protocol about what a principal will do. And we've already had a school where a class has been sent home.
Can you give us clarity? Because she said this is not for me as minister for education, it's for the Department of Health. What exactly happens in the school where you've acase symptoms, first of all, and maybe not covered at all with what's supposed to happen and what's supposed to happen to the parents of the kid and the parents of all the other kids in the class if one of them is sent home?
Yeah, I can unpatched you you stop me if I'm getting into too much detail. But let me try and walk you through it. Right. So if a child becomes symptomatic and the advice on symptoms is a dry cough, fever, a loss of smell, a loss of taste or a taste or shortness of breath. So if your child becomes symptomatic, the child needs to be self isolated. So if the child is at school when they become symptomatic, they will be brought immediately to an isolation area in the school and the parent or guardian will be will be called if your child becomes symptomatic out of school, well, basically, you bring them home and you isolate them.
There's really happens to the other kids in the classroom. When you're isolating one person in the isolation room, what happens to the other children? Do they carry out nothing?
Yes, they do. They carry on. So what happens? Let me walk you through an example. So let's say a child becomes symptomatic at school. The child will be brought to an isolation area. The parent or guardian will be called. They'll bring the child home and they'll follow the guidelines in terms of isolating the child and the the family need to restrict their movements as well. So they they then ring the GP. The GP will do it.
And this is all free. Right. So it's all free. It's a phone call. The GP will then assess the child over the phone. If the GP feels that there is no risk that just look, it sounds like your kid has a you know, just has a normal fever or a cold or whatever it is, they just give you the normal medical advice. If the GP feels that there is a risk, they're following protocols themselves. You'll be referred to the testing centre, which normally you can get to same day.
So the parent or guardian would bring the child to the testing centre. The child will be tested before you get the test results. The test results are now coming back really quite quickly, both why you're waiting for the test. You bring your kid home, keep them isolated, and you isolate you restrict your movements yourselves as a family. So if the test is positive so that you so your child is a confirmed case of covid-19, your child has to isolate or you help isolate your child for at least fourteen days.
Right. So it's fourteen days, the last five of which your child happens to be supervised because that's down to one family.
What about the kids in the classroom the day before or two days before when we now know this child had covid-19 in the classroom? What happens to the classmates and their parents?
So what happens is there's a public health doctor will phone the parent or guardian and begin the contact tracing. So what they're looking to assess is where was your child likely to have contracted the virus when they were in school?
Oh, no, no. Were they? That's fine. That's old ground. And I can understand that. What happens to the other kids in the class. And we now know that there was one infected child in the classroom with covid-19. It's been confirmed what happens to his or her classmates. Yes, so that's that's what I'm telling you. So up until this point in the example, nothing happens, the class continues, the school continues, the public health doctor will talk to the parent or guardian to understand how the child was infected.
And critically, were they in school during a period of time where they were infectious. If the public health doctor believes that that is the case, then they will contact the school and and testing and tracing will be done for those designated as close contacts. Yeah, you know, you talk about a guy going into a house party and he emerges and 30 people are infected, the same is true of a schoolroom perhaps, you know, day like today in Dublin.
It's miserable. The windows are closed. It's, you know, hot and sticky and all that. And you've got one kid in the classroom who's infective. And I don't know, it's still not clear to me exactly what the right thing to do would be. But I want to move on a number of people, and I just.
Are you going to jump on that? Can I. Can I can I can I can I can I can I just respond to that part? Because, you know, a lot of parents are very concerned. So to be very clear, the public health doctors are taking a health led approach. So if the public doctor, for example, feels like this child was in school, they were in fact, if they were infectious in the school, they move very quickly.
They'll work with the principal. They'll work with the teachers to say, OK, well, was the child in a pot? So, for example, with the child with six people. Yes. OK, well, then those six people are now deemed to be close contacts and the system moves very quickly. If it is deemed to be the case that the child was in close contact with everyone in the class, then that's what will happen as well.
So I just want to give parents that reassurance here. There are very clear protocols in place at before the schools went back, there were about 100 children testing positive around the country a week. Inevitably, we know children will test positive in schools, but it is public health alert. And whenever if your child is in school and you're wondering to yourself, God, my child is in a class and another child was taken out and tested, if your child is deemed to be in close contact, they will also be be isolated, untested.
So we are using very well worked through public health protocols.
Moving on to other things, the numbers in Dublin over 100 yesterday. Is there any possibility that Dublin will be lockdown? That's not being contemplated at the moment, what we're looking at at the moment is the different health care areas within Dublin. It's split into what we're seeing is that in the north and north, west or the northwest, really around the border of Killdeer, we are seeing higher cases. The cases in Dublin generally have been increasing steadily over the last few days.
We are watching the situation carefully. However, the national measures that we brought in two weeks ago were for exactly this reason to say the 14 day incident rate is going up. It was going up quite quickly, as you remember from that, when the green list came in, the 14 day incidence rate per 100000 for Ireland was about three and a half. That's now gone up to over 30. So almost 10 times more. And there has been no talk of additional restrictions being brought in for Dublin or indeed other areas, those other parts of the country where the numbers have gone up high.
So that is not being considered at the moment.
What about within Dubbo? You know, it's a big place. Any particular area that's going to be locked down, you know, would you lock down an area of Dublin, for example, casino closed down because you've had an increase in cases there.
Is that being contemplated? It's not been contemplated at the moment, no. Now, you mentioned earlier about the new powers the GARDY will have if they're passed by the houses of the Iraqis. Does that mean that pubs are more likely to open?
Because if you've got these powers to shut them down peremptorily, if they offend and even lock them down for seven or 30 days or whatever it might be, there's an argument that will be advanced by public and certainly that it'll put manners on the rogue publicans and they will be safe to open.
What do you think? I think that's very fair. Yeah, I think Republicans have been hit incredibly hard and they haven't opened for months and months and months and they've been put in an awful situation. And I'm very aware of it. And my colleagues in government are very aware of it as well. Our aim is to get the pubs open as quickly as possible, both for the sector itself, which has suffered hugely, but also for society. So people can go back and, you know, have a drink and do do what they need to do.
They've been closed for a long time. We all know that there are a small number of jobs that are not complying. And in some cases, I would argue they are flouting the guidelines quite openly. And that, quite frankly, is not fair on the vast majority of Republicans who are doing exactly the right thing. I think your proposition is absolutely reasonable, which is with more enforcement power to deal with those who are disregarding the guidelines. It will have it should make it easier for for the others who want to, and I have no doubt will be complying.
Now, a couple of questions coming in from listeners. My wife works as a nanny and a secondary level school in Cork. She's been given a visor and the cleaning spray, not antibacterial, no other PPE. She's working in close proximity to students less than one metre apart. The union has recommended that Ascendis should be provided with medical grade masks to be changed every 20 minutes, which are not available. So what measures are there to protect asanas and why are they not being enforced?
Well, the measures in place are, as you've said, and they are public health led, and my understanding is they are being enforced. If there are cases, if there are and is there is anyone working in a school where they believe that the PPE requirements and all of the other infection control requirements are not being met and they can immediately contact the HSA or the Departments of Education because there must be absolute compliance? My understanding is that that there is passed, but if there are cases where people feel that the infection control measures are not being followed, if having raised it with the principal, they still feel the school is not compliant, they should just contact the Department of Education straight away.
Minister, I'll ask you one general question, but based on the specifics, I suppose, of what Eddie Wilson, the CEO of Ryanair, said yesterday, but it's about the green list. You know, there are so many countries based on the criterion which was used to assemble the green list. In other words, people that had less infectious cases than we have per 100000 and so on. I mean, there's loads more countries that are now on that list.
Are you going to extend the green list on the same principle that you wrote the green list in the first place? It's under review and I need to be careful of what I'm saying, because Ryanair, my understanding is they have a court case, Leive, against the state at the moment relating to the travel restrictions.
So I think the principle the principle is that so many countries, six countries, eight countries were on the green list because they were better. In other words, we are more likely to bring them infection than them us. Now, there are many more countries who qualify for that, that we are much more likely to bring them infection than they are to infect us. So the question is, are you going to extend the green list? Very simple.
So it's under review. And let me explain why it's under review. First of all, the public health advice has never changed, which is against all nonessential travel. The Department of Foreign Affairs have an obligation to provide citizens with accurate information as to the risks and the way the Department of Foreign Affairs works is. A country is designated as green if the risk is deemed to be the same or lower than in Ireland.
OK, so that does go into those countries. Yeah, so.
So and so here's the problem and here's why it's under review. When we brought in the green, this the rate in Ireland was very low. It was at about three or three and a half cases per 100000 cumulatively cumulatively over the past 14 days. And there was a certain number of countries that met that. Since then, our own rate has gone up nearly tenfold. And so if if what we did was essentially peg the countries that qualified to our own race, we would have something perverse happening, which is as the prevalence of covid increased in Ireland, we would be opening ourselves up to more and more countries with high rates of colvert, which obviously is not what you want to be doing.
What we want to be doing is suppressing the virus. And if we were simply to do that, it would, you know, s evidently lead to a higher spread of the virus in the country. That's why we have it under review at the moment.
All right, Minister for Health, Infertility for Wikler, Stephen Donnelly, many thanks for joining us on the program.
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