Coronavirus: Construction sites should close immediately, industry body says
Criticism of delay in publication of full list of essential workers exempted from new restrictions to be announced by Government ‘early’ today
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces, at a briefing in Government Buildings, a tightening of restrictions on the movements of people, to try and curb the spread of the Covid-19. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times
The Irish Government has moved to clarify that people can travel beyond 2km of their homes to buy food.
A spokesman stressed that there was no need to panic buy or stockpile groceries and other supplies.
“Members of the public are advised that, under the new restrictions announced by the Taoiseach last night, you can travel beyond the 2km limit for food shopping,” he said.
“There is no need to panic buy or stockpile. Our supplies chains are working well and will continue to do so. The 2km limit relates to physical exercise within your locality.”
In Dublin, a nurse takes to her bicycle; a policeman has a word with a jogger; Simon Harris, Health Minister; Brendan Kelly’s book about dealing with the viris, and a man out for the messages. Pictures by Bill Heaney
There were large queues at some supermarkets today.
People have been told to stay at home in virtually all circumstances and all public and private gatherings have been banned for two weeks as part of the Government’s latest sweeping measures to tackle coronavirus.
The list of essential workers exempted from the provisions, to be published today, includes those in healthcare, social care, the public and civil service, utilities, necessary goods (food and medicine), financial services, transport and communications, it is understood. Journalists are also expected to be included.
Fianna Fáil criticised the delay in publishing the list.
The party’s spokesman on Business, Enterprise and Innovation Robert Troy said: “This has created great confusion with people unaware of whether their work is considered an essential service or not.
“Of course, many businesses will already know whether they are essential or not but there are others which find themselves in a completely grey area. Are factories which manufacturer for pharmaceutical companies essential or the factories which make pallets which are needed by the big supermarkets?
“Key to this question is whether the company can provide the mandatory two meter distance between employees as advised by the HSE.
“Greater clarity is urgently needed and the list should have been ready so that businesses could have prepared themselves – they deserve better than this.”
Earlier, Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed that construction workers will not be considered “essential” workers for the duration of the crisis.
On Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh this morning, he said construction workers will only be permitted to continue at work if they are building something that is essential to the pandemic.
“So for example if we were to decide that we need to put in modular units or adapt a hotel or build things that we need to actually get through this pandemic – of course that would be essential,” he said.
Reacting, the Director General of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Tom Parlon said: “According to Minister Simon Harris, construction is not deemed as essential service and as such construction workers should stay at home effective from midnight last night.
No need to do all shopping or stockpile this morning. Food stores and takeaways staying open in the emergency. The 2km is about exercising locally. You can go beyond the 2km to buy food and medicines. The supplies are good. We all have a part to play in rising to this challengeTwitter Ads info and privacy
“The Government is finalising a list of essential services to be completed later today that might outline some limited forms of construction essential to combatting Covid-19 directly.”
Mr Parlon said that, in the meantime, the CIF was calling on its members to secure construction sites immediately. “We recommend that members sending teams to secure sites should call ahead to gardaí to inform them,” he added.
“As ever, the construction industry is ready to help combat Covid-19 in any way possible. The CIF will continue to engage with Government and the HSE to explore ways the industry can contribute.”
Meanwhile, the Government spokesman said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Harris would speak today with medical leaders.
“The weekly meeting, chaired by the CMO (chief medical officer), is an opportunity for medical leaders to raise matters with the eepartment. Some will attend in person and others will dial in. Today’s meeting will focus on PPE (personal protective equipment) and staffing.”
More non-essential shops and services will be closed, non-essential surgery is to stop and a ban on visiting hospitals and other healthcare settings is being imposed except on compassionate grounds.
The only exceptions to the stay-at-home rule is for travel to health, social care or other essential work, shopping for food and takeaways, medical appointments and for “vital family reasons” such as providing care.
People will also be allowed take “brief, individual” physical exercise within 2km of their home, and farming will continue.
Late on Friday night An Garda Síochána said there would be a major policing operation this weekend to ensure the new restrictions were being complied with. There will be a high visibility Garda presence all over the country involving thousands of gardaí on foot, bike and mobile patrols.
The Garda operation which runs until 7am on Monday will focus on encouraging compliance with the new measures. However, the Garda said they would intervene where groups of people or venues or outlets were ignoring the new restrictions.
The measures were announced shortly after the death of another three people from the virus was announced. The State now has 2,121 cases of Covid-19 and 22 deaths.
Shielding, or cocooning, is to be introduced for everyone over 70 years of age and other vulnerable categories of people, effectively requiring them to stay at home.
Use of public transport is to be limited to people providing essential services, travel to offshore islands will be limited to residents and pharmacists will be able to dispense medicines even where prescriptions have expired.
“These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared, announcing the measures in Government Buildings. “In the days or weeks ahead, we’re not prisoners of fate, we can influence what’s going to happen to us next.”
Mr Varadkar appealed to people to “give meaning to our freedom” by agreeing to the restrictions, “restricting how we live our lives, so that others may live”.
“I’m asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause. And I’m appealing to every man, woman and child in our country to make the sacrifices, not out of self interest, but for the love of each other.”
The extra measures are being introduced on foot of recommendations by the National Public Health Emergency Team at its meeting earlier on Friday.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said NPHET was concerned about increases in the numbers of cases, ICU admissions and deaths, as well as the emergence of 10 clusters of the disease in nursing homes.
A total of 22 people with Covid-19 have now died in the Republic. The number of new confirmed cases of the disease surged to 302 yesterday, the highest daily total so far. There are now 2,121 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
The number of cases is doubling roughly every four days, which is somewhat better than was forecast at the start of the outbreak.
Up to last Wednesday, 419 patients had been hospitalised with the disease, it said, and 59 of these had been admitted to ICU.
While declining to describe the measures as a “lockdown”, Mr Varadkar admitted they were “very restrictive” and added: “There isn’t much more we can do.”
He admitted the measures would be hard to police but said the gardaí have powers to detain people and that penalties can be imposed.
Meanwhile President Michael D Higgins has signed into law the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020.
It gives the Government extensive emergency powers to combat the pandemic and mitigate economic collapse.
The Bill prevents evictions of tenants, imposes a rent freeze, allows restaurants to become takeaways and provides for the rehiring of retired healthcare workers and former soldiers.
It also provides temporary income support schemes by contributing to wage costs to allow employers to continue paying their employees.
President Higgins said it was for “a time of crisis” and it was appropriate it had time limits and left constitutional rights in place.
Stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff tackling the Covid-19 outbreak are “beginning to run low”, according to the Health Service Executive. It is currently seeking to redistribute stocks to sites with “particular shortages”, it said.
A large shipment of PPE is scheduled to arrive in Dublin Airport on Sunday and be distributed in the following days, but it remains unclear if existing supplies will be sufficient to bridge the gap until then.