As I stand here this evening I am acutely aware of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on our nation.
Individuals, families, communities, businesses, whole sectors of the economy are under unprecedented strain. People have made extraordinary sacrifices in the battle against this virus and I know that it can be hard to stay focussed and to stay the course.
At our last update on the national response to Covid-19, we paused Phase 4 of the plan to reopen our country based on worrying evidence of an increase in transmission of the disease within society.
I wish that I was in a position to share better news today, but I am not. It is now clear that our cautious approach in mid July was the correct approach.
Evidence of increased transmission is now even clearer.
I want to share with you two important facts that demonstrate very clearly the current trajectory of the disease and the precarious position we find ourselves in.
1) The five day moving average for confirmed cases newly reported to the Department of Health is 45.4. For comparison, this is up from 6.4 on 24th June.
2) The 14 day incidence per 100,000 is 7.54. This is up from 2.46 in the 14 days up to 30th June
To be clear, these figures are still good in an international context. The Irish people have done an incredible job in controlling this virus. But the figures do show just how important it is for us to remain vigilant and to keep on top of it. The CMO used a very striking phrase in a briefing I had with him earlier. He said that ‘we are very delicately balanced’.
The 14 day incidence per 100,000 has tripled over the course of a month. While the number is still low, we have to heed our Chief Medical Officer and NPHET and we need to keep the pressure on the virus.
Given these figures and the international trend of increased transmission, the Government has made a number of decisions today based on the advice of NPHET.
Firstly, and I know this will come as a bitter disappointment to many people, the Cabinet has agreed to continue with the current public health measures that are in place.
Therefore pubs, bars, hotel bars, nightclubs and casinos will remain closed. Also, the current restrictions on numbers attending indoor and outdoors gatherings will remain unchanged. We will review the evidence again in three weeks' time.
I know that this will come as a blow to pub owners and I want them to know that I have enormous sympathy for their plight. This virus is taking away their ability to earn a living. It is stopping them from providing a key service in the heart of many communities, especially in rural Ireland.
But we are doing what we are doing to save lives and to give our society and economy the best chance we can to reopen safely and sustainably. International evidence shows very clearly that pubs and nightclubs reopening too early leads directly and inextricably to increased community transmission. And that is the very worst thing that could happen here. It would be very damaging for our economy in the longer term, it would be very damaging for our plan to reopen schools safely, and it would of course be very damaging for our public health.
The second major decision that has been taken on Covid-19 is that face coverings will be mandatory in shops and shopping centres across the country from 10th August.
As we have seen with face coverings on public transport and the many other requests that have been made of citizens over the course of the pandemic, when people are given a clear direction, they follow it.
Thirdly, following reports that there was an issue with people in Direct Provision settings being reluctant to come forward for tests because of fear of losing income, we have decided that, lest there be any doubt, Direct Provision residents will be treated the same as any other citizen in terms of social protection supports when it comes to Covid-19.
Government will continue its efforts to protect vulnerable groups and those at higher risk of infection, building on the work previously undertaken through NPHET.
Finally, as promised we have kept the list of overseas destinations with ‘normal precautions’ advice under constant review and this evening five destinations have been removed from that list because of deteriorating virus numbers. Those destinations are Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino. Anyone travelling to Ireland from those countries will now have to limit movement for 14 days upon their arrival.
There are no additions to the list, and we continue to advise people that the safest thing they can do, in terms of their own health and the health of the country, is to stay in Ireland.
As I have said a number of times now, while we have reopened our society and economy to a significant degree, one thing has not changed. This virus has not changed.
It remains as virulent as ever and it is constantly on the search for new people to infect. It remains completely indiscriminate in its cruelty.
But as dangerous as it is, we have shown that we can beat it. Each one of us has the power to suppress it.
• We need to wash our hands.
• And wash them again.
• We need to wear a mask when on public transport and in retail settings.
• We need to practice good cough and sneeze etiquette.
• We need to maintain social distance.
• We need to minimise our number of close contacts.
• We need to download the Covid-19 App.
When we do all of these things, we make a real difference. I appeal to the country this evening to have patience. We know how deadly this disease is – we’ve seen a terrible human cost, with 2,319 dead across the island.
We need to continue to suppress the virus.
The only way we can do this is if we continue to work together and follow the advice. It is up to us. Please let us continue to fight the virus together. For our brilliant health workers, for our children who need to get back to school, for our vulnerable loved ones, for our society and our economy, and in honour of all those who passed away, let us continue to do the simple things that we know work. Together, we will overcome.
Táimid le chéile in aghaidh an galar mhallaithe seo. Go raibh maith agaibh.