Irish parliament adjourned over coronavirus scare

Irish premier Micheál Martin and his entire cabinet were directed to restrict their movements for several hours on Tuesday after the health minister fell ill, leading to a coronavirus test that proved negative. 

The restrictions were quickly lifted after 9pm but the minister’s symptoms led to chaos in government and parliament, on a day when Mr Martin set out a master plan to tackle the pandemic as the country faces rising Covid-19 infections.

One minister learned of the restriction on movements in the middle of a radio interview — and proceedings in parliament were halted abruptly because no senior ministers were available to conduct its business. The speaker of the Dáil assembly said first that the adjournment could last a week but moves soon followed to bring the house back within three hours, with junior ministers replacing their senior colleagues. 

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, had attended several official meetings on Monday and a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before a press conference at which he, Mr Martin and deputy premier Leo Varadkar spoke at length to reporters about the master plan. 

He felt unwell afterwards and contacted his doctor to seek a test, prompting extraordinary steps to curtail the movements of all ministers in case they were exposed to the virus and risked passing it on to others.

The test came back negative, the government later said, but not before severe disruption. One of those whose movements were restricted was the acting chief medical officer, a top figure in the country’s battle against coronavirus, who is working closely with the minister.

Interviewed on national television at teatime on Tuesday, Mr Martin said the measures reflected an abundance of caution. The minister had “symptoms” linked to the virus, the taoiseach added.

The house returned later on Tuesday night. 

The health alert overshadowed carefully laid plans to set out a comprehensive plan to guide travel into the country and the conduct of gatherings, weddings, funerals, sporting and arts events, according to the severity of the pandemic at any time. 

A sharp rise in infections in Dublin prompted the government to impose new restrictions on Tuesday, with non-food pubs to stay closed in the city when such establishments resume trading from September 21 in the rest of the country.

Ireland reported three further coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,787. There were 357 new infections — 218 of them in Dublin, where cases have risen more than 10-fold in two months — taking the total to 31,549. 

Mr Martin has had a rocky start since taking office in late June. He sacked his first agriculture minister after 17 days over a historic drink driving case. The second resigned weeks later over a golf dinner that breached coronavirus restrictions, an event that also toppled former EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan. 

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