Galway Bay fm newsroom- Full speech given by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on exiting Level Five…
Almost six weeks ago, I stood here and talked with you about what urgent action we needed to take together to drive down high and rising Covid infection rates.
At that stage, we were seeing the success of Level 3 restrictions in slowing the spread of the disease.
However, it was essential to go further to drive down infection rates at a moment when Europe was facing a major surge.
And so, in the days after, together we moved into another massive national effort to isolate and push back the disease.
It hasn’t been easy.
Many individuals and businesses have made huge sacrifices.
And many more are totally fed up with Covid-19 and everything that has come with it over the past nine months.
I understand that feeling. Very often I share it.
The relentless roll-call of infection numbers and restrictions; the absence of so many of the small things that each one of us take comfort from on a daily basis – it is tough and it is mentally exhausting.
But as we go through the daily experience of the fight against Covid, it can be easy to forget the magnitude of what it is we are fighting against.
Tonight, as I speak to you, this virus has killed more than 3,000 people on our island.
That is a terrible toll.
And behind that number, there are many thousands of partners, children, siblings and friends who are grieving. There are also many people still struggling with the symptoms and after effects of Covid.
We remember them; and the efforts and the sacrifices we have made over the course of this year, honours them.
The encouraging news is that the efforts and the sacrifices that each of us has made, is working.
Lives have been saved.
We learned key lessons from the first wave and through this great national effort, we have pushed the virus back to the point where we now have the second lowest infection rate in the European Union.
We have been able to achieve this because you have taken personal responsibility, you understand the danger of what we are dealing with and you have made choices that minimised the risk.
We have been able to achieve this, and do it while keeping our schools, childcare facilities, construction and essential retail services open because of the commitment of the workers in each of those sectors.
And we have been able to achieve this, while maintaining capacity in our hospitals and continuing to treat sick people across the country because of the ongoing courage and dedication of our healthcare community.
To quote Pope Francis in his recent reflection on the pandemic, “They are the saints next door… They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference.”
And so, what now?
There has been much speculation in media over recent days and weeks about what a meaningful Christmas will look like. Many legitimate voices have been raised to advocate for various sectors and interests.
Government has considered carefully the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team. We have also examined additional research on how the disease has spread and the factors which influence this.
We have listened to and studied all of the information available to us, and what I would like to do now is spell out as clearly and concisely as possible what the coming period is going to look like.
This cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to, but it will be a very special time when we will all be able to enjoy some respite from the hardships of 2020 and in particular the last six weeks.
From 1st December, we will move to Level 3 of the Government’s National Framework for living with Covid-19 with some modifications. Much of the detail of what this means is available in the guide sent to every home, and all of the details of this phase will be available on the Government website.
Some of the key messages are as follows:
- People must continue to stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes until the 18th December. People should continue to work from home unless absolutely necessary to attend in person.
- Similarly, households should not mix with other households other than those within their bubble until 18th December.
- On 18th December, these travel restrictions will be eased for a period of two weeks until 6th January during which period people can travel outside their county and meet indoors with up to two other households.
- Places of worship will reopen for services on 1st December with restrictive measures in place. This will be reviewed again in January.
- Museums, galleries, cinemas and libraries with protective measures in place will reopen on 1st December.
- From the 4th December, restaurants, pubs operating as restaurants with their own kitchen, and hotels may open for indoor dining with additional restrictions.
- In making this decision, we are trusting business owners and we are trusting their customers. We all have individual personal responsibility, and by closely following the rules we believe we can make this reopening sustainable.
- Unfortunately, nothing in the research available to Government supports any further reopening of so-called ‘wet pubs’ at this stage. I know how deeply frustrating this will be for business owners in this sector. I fully accept their goodwill about respecting guidelines – but the reality is that reopening indoor hospitality carries risks and there is only so far we can safely go.
- I want to reassure them that additional supports, over and above what is currently in place, will be made available to owners to help them into the new year and prepare for their eventual reopening.
- The Government is also updating its guidance on masks.
- In July, we introduced guidance on wearing masks indoors and this has had an incredibly positive impact.
- We are now adding to that guidance. From 1st December, people will be asked to also wear their masks outdoors on busy streets, within crowded indoor workplaces and in places of worship.
In easing restrictions, we are going as far as we believe is possible to achieve the best balance of health, economic and social considerations. But no further.
The Government and I are satisfied that this combination of new arrangements strikes a safe balance between maintaining the pressure on the disease and creating space for families, friends and loved ones to be together this Christmas.
After Christmas comes the New Year.
The days will start to lengthen again and we can face into 2021 with renewed hope. We have all watched with great anticipation the news of the development of a series of vaccines showing very promising results.
A National Vaccine Task Force is already at work and it will ensure that as a country, we are ready to move quickly and efficiently to roll out safe vaccines when they are authorised and available.
Funding and key contracts are in place. Distribution will be fast, comprehensive and fair.
Safe vaccines will not eliminate this virus on their own. And even as we roll out a vaccination programme we will still need to maintain safe distance and practice all the other basic control measures, but the vaccination programme will lay the path out of this pandemic and put us on the road to a safe reopening of our society and our economy.
As we exit from Level 5 restrictions, we do so with a deep desire not to have to go back.
And while it will be up to the Government to make those decisions in the months ahead, the power to prevent it rests with each and every citizen in our country.
Speaking last night, the World Health Organisation’s Mike Ryan reminded us of an important thing. We are smart people, we can process information and each of us knows how to manage risk.
In our interactions over the coming period, each one of us has the responsibility to manage risk.
After nine months of learning about how this virus is spreading in our community, one overwhelming lesson has emerged: EVERY CONTACT COUNTS.
If we want to stop the virus we must continue to limit contacts outside of a small circle.
Our older people, who we deeply cherish and who contribute so much to our society and our nation, are particularly vulnerable to this disease. They are relying on the rest of us to be responsible.
Our business, arts and cultural communities are relying on everyone being responsible. That’s the only way that we can reach a point of helping them to fully reopen.
And our children are relying on us too. They have had a very challenging year and we owe it to them to return the full freedoms of childhood as soon as possible.
And I have a message for our children.
I know this is a very special time of year for you, and I know this is a very special night with the Toy Show coming very soon.
But I want to say thank you. Your strength and the way you’ve coped with the challenge of Covid is an inspiration.
You keep us going and drive us forward. You are the future of this country and we all want to make sure that you have the opportunity to grow and thrive.
You’re going to hear a lot about Roald Dahl tonight. In keeping with that, remember what the small foxes said to their father, the Fantastic Mr Fox, “We can do it! You see if we can’t. You can too!”
2020 has been a remarkable year.
It has been a year when we’ve demonstrated extraordinary resilience as a country and made huge sacrifices for the common good.
Because of some of those sacrifices we now have the opportunity to enjoy a different, but special Christmas.
We can be with our loved ones,
and remember those we’ve lost.
We will come through this together.
Mar a deirtear, “Le spiorad na meithle I measc mhuintir na tíre seo éireoidh linn dóchas a spreagadh agus tiocfaimid slán”.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.