LEO VARADKAR has criticised the National Public Health Emergency Team's announcement that Ireland should be placed under Level 5 restrictions, stating the plan was "not thought through".
The Tánaiste was speaking last night on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live when he made the comments, which many have seen as a criticism of Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.
Dr Holohan, who chairs the NPHET, wrote a letter to the Government which was publicised on Sunday night and which advised that a Level 5 'lockdown' was the correct route to take in order to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The restrictions would bring a return to the lockdown seen in March and April of this year, with all non-essential businesses closed, no household visits allowed and citizens unable to travel more than 5km from their homes except for essential reasons.
Following a meeting with NPHET, the Irish government decided to reject the advice, and instead the country will move to Level 3 restrictions from midnight tonight.
Currently, 24 counties are on Level 2 restrictions, and Dublin and Donegal are at level 3, due to a spike in cases in the areas.
Leo Varadkar, speaking to Claire Byrne yesterday, said he had spoken to CMO Dr Holohan and the doctor now accepted that there should have been prior consultation with the government before the advice was publicised.
Defending the government's decision to accept NPHET's advice, the Tánaiste said that while NPHET are experts in health, none of them would have faced "being on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment" should Level 5 be introduced, and "none of them would have to tell somebody they were losing their job".
"I think what happened the last couple of days wasn’t good for anyone," Mr Varadkar added.
"[It] wasn’t good for NPHET, isn’t good for Government, and really wasn’t good for the Irish people, many of whom were worried sick today wondering whether they had a job tomorrow, wondering whether they were shuttering their business for the last time."
Mr Varadkar said that what happened on Sunday night "came out of the blue", as there had been no suggestion "whatsoever" the health team were considering a suggested move to Level 5.
— Claire Byrne Live (@ClaireByrneLive) October 5, 2020
"We considered it very carefully and we decided not to accept the advice at this time," he said.
"They're not proposing a zero-Covid strategy," he added. "They agree with us that it's not possible for Ireland because of the land border with Northern Ireland, because they have free travel with the UK."
Rather, NPHET were proposing a "circuit break" to disrupt the spread of the virus, but this had "never been tried in Europe" and "we didn't feel it had been thought through properly", the former Taoiseach continued.
The public health team were also unable to promise that the Level 5 lockdown would only last for four weeks, and also could not guarantee that it would be possible to keep schools open.
When t he question was put to NPHET regarding the 400,000 people who could lose their jobs in Level 5, NPHET said "that was a political matter for us (the government)."
Mr Varadkar also rejected the health experts' claims that hospitals and ICU beds in Ireland were about to be overwhelmed by the virus, saying the HSE chief did not share those views.
He insisted, however, that he still had confidence in Dr Tony Holohan, saying he did not think the idea was "crazy" but "it was not thought through".
"I have confidence in NPHET to dispense public health advice. That’s what they do. They don’t advise the public, they advise the Government and the Government decided."