Martin insists he's 'not ashamed' of Ireland's handling of Covid crisis, despite highest infection rate in Europe
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Martin insists he's 'not ashamed' of Ireland's handling of Covid crisis, despite highest infection rate in Europe

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has defended the government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis leading up to Christmas in spite of the fact that Ireland now has the highest infection rate in Europe.

He insisted he was "not ashamed" of the strategy used, but admitted that the government must accept full responsibility for the recent surge in case numbers.

He did however point out to the UK variant as a significant driver in cases and the spread of Covid-19, particularly with thousands of people travelling to Ireland from England for the festive season.

Many have criticised the government's approach in the weeks leading up to Christmas though, saying that travel in and out of the country should have been regulated far more strictly, and that allowing the public to enjoy what was essentially three weeks of 'freedom' without lockdown measures shortly before the holidays was a big mistake.

Speaking with Pat Kenny on Newstalk Radio, the Taoiseach defended his government's tactics, stressing that they've "always responded effectively" to surges in case numbers.

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"We had been in a very prolonged period of restrictions of one kind or the other, and coming into the December period we had six weeks of Level 5," Martin said.

"The socialisation that emerged in December alongside the new variants, and as Prof Paul Moynagh pointed out, don't underestimate the seasonality of the virus."

When asked if he thought reopening gastropubs and restaurants in December was a mistake - due to the fact that they created the "perfect environment for the virus to spread," - Martin said he believed he made the right choice, as the public's patience with lockdown measures was wearing thin, and "compliance was weakening".

He also argued that household provided just as good an opportunity for the virus to spread.

"There are various level to which you can impose restrictions on people and that became clear to us in the last two weeks [of Level 5 lockdown before Christmas]," he said.

"It would be very simplistic to focus on one area."

Martin went on to say that overall, he think the measures his government have imposed have been working, as levels of the disease were very low in early December, but added that it was "very difficult" to close Ireland's borders.

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