ZERO Covid is strategy that would be unworkable and herald the end of tourism and aviation in Clare, according to Deputy Michael McNamara.
The approach has been mooted by a growing number of opposition TDs and members of the medical profession and would involve reducing coronavirus cases to an absolute minimum, through a combination of lockdown and tight border controls.
“Zero Covid sounds fine,” the Independent TD said, “but even if it was achievable, and I don’t believe that it is, when we can’t decide where we are going to have our border, what then? If we get to zero Covid cases, how are we to maintain that situation without more or less permanent quarantining of people arriving into the country? If that’s to be the system, we can forget about tourism and aviation in Clare, permanently.”
The Scariff-based deputy also rejected the narrative that the response to the pandemic involves a trade-off between public health and the economy. “I really don’t see it as a choice between lives and livelihoods,” he said. “We know that when the economy reaches recession levels, that peoples’ live expectancy is decreased. To suggest that there’s some horrible choice between peoples’ lives and the economy is false.”
Deputy McNamara made his comments in response to figures showing the impact of the pandemic on the economy of Clare, and other counties with a high reliance on tourism and retail.
Data compiled by The Central Bank show that between September of 2019 and November of last year, unemployment in this county went from just over 8% to 22.6%. Only counties Kerry and Longford had a high joblessness rate to the end of November.
This week, the number of Clare people claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was 10,500. The figure jumped by over 1,200 in seven days, but is still below the peak of 14,600 recorded last May.
According to some advocates a zero Covid policy, as demonstrated in New Zealand, had the potential to enable a full return to normal life and economic activity as long as international travel is curtailed.
Last Tuesday, when the Taoiseach announced the extension of Level 5 restrictions until March 5 he said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had not recommended a zero Covid approach.
“It’s a promise that you could never fulfill,” Micheál Martin said, “once you reopen again, the prospect is there for reseeding of the virus”. He added that the border with Northern Ireland as well are our membership of the European Economic Zone made closing the borders impracticable and unsustainable.
This week, the government introduced a tiered quarantining system. The first level applies to anyone who arrives in Ireland through ports or airports and involves quarantining at home.
The second tier applies is to people who arrive in a port or airport without having a valid pre-departure test to show they do not have Covid. They will have to quarantine in a designated facility and may be subject to a fine or imprisonment.
The third mandatory quarantine applies to those arriving from South Africa, Brazil and South America. Travel from these countries will be severely restricted because of a suspension of visa-free or short-term holiday visits.