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'Living with Covid' chaos: Cabinet virus scare and a second wave gathers strength as stricter Nphet advice looms for Dublin

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, arriving at the unveiling of the Irish Government's blueprint for living with Covid-19 in Dublin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, arriving at the unveiling of the Irish Government's blueprint for living with Covid-19 in Dublin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, arriving at the unveiling of the Irish Government's blueprint for living with Covid-19 in Dublin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA

The Government’s new plan for living with Covid-19 was plunged into chaos amid communication blunders and a virus scare that impacted the entire Cabinet.

Ministers were forced to restrict their movements while awaiting the outcome of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s coronavirus test.

With the rate of new cases continuing to skyrocket, Cabinet ministers were told to avoid contact with anyone from outside their household. Mr Donnelly’s test last night came back negative.

The development followed confusion over new restrictions for Dublin, where the number of new cases is continuing to spike, with 218 recorded in the capital.

The Cabinet decided against moving Dublin into a higher category of restrictions than the rest of the country.

However, it is understood the National Public Health Emergency Team will advise more severe measures as soon as tomorrow.

Official Government advice on the first phase of restrictions for Dublin were amended and updated on at least two occasions after the plan for Living With Covid-19 was published.

Speaking at a press conference, Taoiseach Micheál Martin failed to outline in detail the new restrictions in place for Dublin.

This includes a ban on more than two households meeting, a limit of 100 people at any outdoor sporting event, and the postponement of pubs that don't serve food from reopening next week.

The official advice also says that people living in Dublin should be "encouraged to limit travel outside the region, and only meet one other household when outside the county".

However, while the advice was being published online, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told RTE's News At One that people living in Dublin could "absolutely" travel outside the county.

The Taoiseach then came under fire in the Dáil, where Labour Party leader Alan Kelly accused Mr Donnelly of ­"contradicting" the new plan.

A new Dublin lockdown risks much more severe economic consequences than the lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, economists have warned.

The capital is host to one-third of all jobs and accounts for €43 of every €100 generated in the economy.

Later yesterday afternoon, Mr Donnelly was advised to seek a test for the virus after he became unwell following the launch of the plan. Some ministers reported that their Fianna Fáil colleague appeared visibly unwell at the Cabinet meeting.

Hours later, the acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, who advised Mr Donnelly to consult with his GP, issued advice that those who attended the meeting should restrict their movements out of an "abundance of caution".

It was later confirmed that Dr Glynn was also restricting his movements having attended meetings with the Health Minister in recent days.

On a dramatic day for the coalition, it also emerged that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was already restricting his movements at home as a family member was being tested.

European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne was also self-isolating after developing a "mild cough".

A short time after the news of Mr Donnelly being unwell, at 5.15pm, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl informed the Dáil that the Cabinet was being forced to "self-isolate" and that the House would be suspended for the rest of the week.

However, the Government later said senior ministers were being told to restrict their movements rather than self-isolate, meaning they have to avoid contact with others as much as possible rather than remain indoors and effectively quarantine.

The decision to suspend the Dáil was reversed within the hour amid pressure from the Opposition. Alan Kelly rang the Taoiseach, who later confirmed that junior ministers would stand in for members of the Cabinet and speak on behalf of the Government.

The Dáil was returning because "we believe Ministers of State can take certain issues and represent the Government", Mr Martin said.

The Cabinet was being cautious because there were a number of meetings Mr Donnelly attended, including when he briefed the whole Cabinet on the Living with Covid-19 plan.

Mr Martin stressed that he would continue to work, via Zoom and on the phone. "I will be at my desk," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Donnelly said: "The Minister for Health began to feel unwell this afternoon.

"He contacted his GP and has been referred for a Covid-19 test."

Mr Donnelly, who had been due to take ministerial questions in the Dáil last night, left the Department of Health and went home.

Later last night it was confirmed that the test result had come back negative for Covid-19.

One source close to the Minister said he would "hate the attention" caused by his becoming unwell and having to seek a test.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee was live on Drivetime on RTÉ Radio One when the news broke.

"I'm afraid that's the first I'm hearing of this," she said. "The last information I had to date was that Minister Donnelly had been informed he was to take a test."

Irish Independent