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Cross-border restrictions could be introduced, Coveney warns

Simon Coveney said there was a clear agreement that both jurisdictions need to do more together to curb the spread of the virus.

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Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Restrictions on cross-border movement could be introduced if they are agreed by governments in the Republic and Northern Ireland, Simon Coveney has warned.

His warning comes after a huge spike in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland, prompting concerns within the Irish Government about cases spilling south of the border.

Some 1,080 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Friday, while 617 new cases were notified in the Republic.

Five further deaths were also recorded in the Republic, bringing the toll to 1,821.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said it is “vital” that the transmission of the virus is disrupted now.

“The profile of the disease continues to deteriorate,” he said.

“There have been an additional 32 hospitalisations and eight ICU admissions in the past 24 hours. We are continuing to see a high number of daily cases.

“It is vital that we interrupt the transmission of the virus now.

“Nphet continues to monitor the situation however it is early, individual action that is needed to suppress the virus.”

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said there was a clear agreement that both jurisdictions need to do more together to curb the spread of the virus.

It came as Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald called for an integrated approach across the island to fight what she called “frightening” levels of transmission.

Mr Coveney met Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis in Belfast on Thursday, where they discussed the rise in cases and the funding issue from London.

Mr Coveney said that while no barriers will be erected on the border, the Irish Government needs to ensure cases do not spill into the south, creating “tension and resentment”.

“The issue is here, we do need to move quickly. We have seen a dramatic spike in terms of infection spread in Northern Ireland, particularly in the Derry/Strabane area,” he told RTE Morning Ireland.

“We have also, and I don’t think it’s by coincidence, seen Donegal as having the highest incidence rate in Ireland right now, right next door.

“We have got to work together.

“There may be two jurisdictions on the island, there is one land mass where populations move and can infect each other, so we have to have a common approach or at least as close to that as possible in terms of restrictions and manging the spread of infection, so we understand fully what is happening in each other’s jurisdictions.

“We are only going to restrict movement if it’s agreed by jurisdictions between both governments and fully explained to people.

“We are not in the business of erecting barriers on the border between north and south. We fought for two years to make sure that doesn’t happen as a consequence of Brexit.

“That being said, we are restricting movement between counties in the Republic of Ireland, so we need to be talking directly to the Executive about how movement is being restricted in Northern Ireland.”

There may be two jurisdictions on the island, there is one land mass where populations move and can infect each other Simon Coveney

Mr Coveney said that clarity is needed from politicians in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as co-operation between their respective chief medical officers.

“There is a significant spike in Northern Ireland and continuing, we need to make sure that is not spilling over the border, creating tension and resentment and facilitating the spread,” he added.

Mary Lou McDonald said it was time the Governments in Belfast and Dublin started “acting together.”

Speaking on Friday, she said: “I want to say that the situation in the North at the moment is dangerous and grave and there will have to be an intervention in light of the frightening level and strength of community transmission of this virus.

“The Taoiseach needs to maintain his efforts to ensure that London comes up with the necessary supports package to ensure that people can live and survive this crisis.

“To the people in border areas, the Donegals and the Monaghans, who are now concerned that there isn’t already a joined up approach to this matter. It is not imperative not alone that Dublin and Belfast talk to each other on a daily basis, but we now really need to start acting together.

“We need a commonality of purpose and an integrated approach right across the island.”

Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is on Friday speaking to his Northern Ireland counterpart Dr Michael McBride about the issue.

Meanwhile, a member of Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team has called for an all-island response to the spiralling cases, calling the rates in Northern Ireland “alarmingly high.”

Dr Colm Henry told RTE’s Morning Ireland: ” Certainly the levels, it’s a cause for concern looking at the figures in border counties.

“We see two weekends with rates of 350, to remind your listeners it’s 116 nationally. The levels we’re seeing across the border are alarmingly high.

“Our capacity to control this particularly in border areas is heavily dependent on the response across the border, which all emphasises the need for an all island approach to this virus.”

Dr Henry, the chief clinical officer at the HSE, said we had come to a “crux” in the fight against the virus.

“Level three or level four or level five, what matters now is we have the tiniest of windows to stop this reaching levels were there will be unsustainable pressure on our hospitals.

“Where it will seep into vulnerable settings where we have already seen outbreaks, 10 outbreaks the past week in nursing homes with 68 cases.”
ends

The Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee is also meeting on Friday to address a proposal to introduce graduated fines to deter people from breaching health regulations.

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