On Tuesday 17 March, a day that will forever be remembered as one where self-isolation took precedence over the usual on-street jubilation, the Government signed off on the text of the proposed Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020, which aims to support a co-ordinated national response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The Cabinet meeting, which was held over the phone as opposed to in person, comes just a day before talks are set to resume between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the formation of a new Government. This Bill, which is expected to be 'nodded through' the Dáil at a special sitting on Thursday, includes new measures designed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- Allowing for the detention of persons if they refuse to self-isolate on medical advice;
- Allowing for the shutting down of large events or gatherings of people;
- Allowing for certain areas to be designated as high-risk 'affected areas';
- Giving effect to the new social welfare measures for those who now find themselves out of work as a result of the drastic economic changes which have been caused by the virus.
Interesting, the Bill provides that persons who are detained may be kept in isolation at a hospital, or at another designated building. This implies that the Government may be considering turning some of our now-empty commercial spaces and/or hotels into centres for dealing with COVID-19. This is in line with the repurposing of Croke Park, which is now being used as a 'drive-through' testing facility.
The Bill, though comprehensive, does not deal with the other pertinent issues we are now also facing. The issue of rent, mortgage and loan freezes are being discussed, as are tax and rates holidays for businesses. It is understandable that national health takes priority, and our response has been admirable thus far - but it is very important that we take steps to mitigate against the economic effects of COVID-19.
The full text of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020 may be accessed here.