by David Raleigh
COVID-19 will be with us “forever”, the Tánaiste declared during a visit to Limerick this week.
Leo Varadkar also reminded the country that we are not out of the woods yet – despite over 90 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated.
As restrictions on the nightclub and entertainment industry lifted this week, Mr Varadkar warned that stringent restrictions on society may yet have to be reintroduced should a new variant of the killer virus emerge.
“There’s always the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced in the country as a whole, but what we are aiming to do is to get through this winter without having to do that,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I think it’s increasingly clear that Covid is going to be with us forever. It’s going to become an endemic virus, perhaps a virus that is seasonal in nature,” he said.
As hospitals continued to monitor the spread of the virus and continued to tweak their winter plans, the Tánaiste commented: “Everyone in government is going to be a little bit worried about what we face into for the next couple of weeks”.
Mr Varadkar expressed concern for members of his own family who work in the health system as they prepare to face another uncertain winter working on the front line.
“I think people working in the health service are (worried) as well, and I have a lot of friends and family working in the health service, so I am concerned for them and the pressures they and patients are going to face over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that because of the potential for the virus to spawn a more transmissible and harmful variant of itself, that Covid could still trip us up. “We know from the experience in other countries that Covid cases are rising in Germany and Belgium and the Netherlands, linked to the fact that people are mixing more, linked to the fact that we are heading into winter and people are heading indoors more.”
Mr Varadkar, who is a qualified doctor, said he would roll up his sleeves and assist colleagues in the health system if he was needed again: “As you know I’ve done that on two occasions in the pandemic and most recently I was apart of the vaccination programme during the summer so the short answer is yes — I am willing and available to help out if I’m needed.”
He said he would not be immediately joining others in returning to the nightclub scene, responding: “Not this weekend, but I’m not in the business of criticising or condemning anyone who decides to go out.”
“It’s allowed, so people can, we just ask people to take the precautions, make sure your’e vaccinated, bring your Covid cert, and if you’ve any symptoms – whether you’re vaccinated or not – please don’t go out, wear the mask where appropriate, and consider taking an antigen test to give you that additional reassurance.”
Commenting in the wake of the third protest by anti-Covid-19 vaccine protestors outside his home, and the murder of Conservative MP, Sir David Amess, Mr Varadkar said he agreed with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who sought a garda review of Irish politicians’ security arrangements.
“I certainly agree with the Taoiseach on that, but I have to say I have always had a lot of confidence in the gardaí and in the special protection unit, and I very much trust in them to make the write decisions and to provide whatever level of security they think is appropriate.”
When asked if he had ever faced a credible threat to his life, he replied: “We’re not supposed to discuss security matters, if that’s ok, so I’d prefer not to answer.”
However, Mr Varadkar said that while he obviously was in favour of keeping public representatives safe, he added, “we also don’t want to be in a security bubble either where we are cut off from our constituents and from people”.
Commenting on Ireland’s responsibilities on climate change, Mr Varadkar said it would be unfair to single any one sector out, however in respect of the agricultural sector which saw a rise in carbon emissions last year, he said he was not in favour of culling livestock or rescuing Irish food production.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we live in a country that feeds nine times as many people that live here. We have a population of 5 million, and we feed 45 million, and I think it would be a mistake to displace food production overseas because that doesn’t actually improve the environment because we all (live under) the same atmosphere.”
The government has sought a reduction in greenhouse gases over the next decade from electricity (80 per cent); transport (50 per cent); industry (50 per cent).
However, the Tánaiste said it was only seeking a 20-30 per cent reduction in emissions from the food and agricultural sector “in recognition of the fact that they’re different, that they are special, and need to be treated differently”.