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Ministers keen to reject Level 5 advice but more restrictions already looming

'The reality is the next few weeks will be very restrictive. You can call it what you want but things are going to be bad'

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No blame: Patrick O’Donovan

No blame: Patrick O’Donovan

No blame: Patrick O’Donovan

Ministers want to reject Nphet's advice for Level 5 restrictions - but they accept more measures will have to be introduced to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the coming weeks.

There is a growing belief that Cabinet will again shoot down Nphet's call for the highest level of coronavirus regulations and instead introduce Level 4 restrictions.

However, senior figures in the two main Government parties say it is inevitable countrywide near-lockdown restrictions will be introduced in the coming days.

Ministers are eager to stick to the Living with Covid-19 plan, which allows for a step-by-step approach to introducing new rules. This would mean moving to Level 4 before Level 5.

The most significant differences between the two levels is that under the top level of restrictions pubs and restaurants can provide only takeaway and delivery service, and people cannot travel further than 5km from their home.

One Cabinet minister said: "The reality is the next few weeks will be very restrictive. You can call it what you want but things are going to be bad."

The minister said the Cabinet may "modify" the Level 5 restrictions so they were not as severe as set out to allow people travel further from their homes. "It would be essentially Level 4 but we could call it Level 5."

Another senior minister said: "The safest course politically is to accept the advice as numbers are likely to rise for the next few weeks in any scenario but I don't know if that is the right thing to do."

A third Cabinet minister said: "I would be against moving to Level 5 straight away.

"We need to move up the levels as set out in the plan."

Meanwhile, there is frustration in Cabinet over the lack of an exit strategy or targets for exiting the strategy in the Nphet plan.

A Government source said the Nphet letter did not set out how the six week lockdown should end.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he would give the Nphet proposal "very detailed consideration" ahead of the Cabinet committee meeting on Covid-19 today.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government would consider the public health advice along with other economic and social factors before reaching any decision.

"It has to take into account a number of things - obviously the public health objectives around saving lives and preventing transmission of the virus but also the impact on mental health, general health, impact on disability services, on education, on society and on jobs and that's what we will do," he said.

It comes after the Government introduced Level 4 restrictions for Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal on Wednesday and a nationwide ban on household visits.

At the meeting, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris suggested the entire country should be put into Level 4.

Other ministers are understood to have questioned why a national Covid-19 communication campaign similar to road safety advertising has yet to be introduced.

There is an expectation that a Cabinet meeting may be called over the weekend to discuss the introduction of new regulations.

This will be decided after today's Cabinet sub committee meeting.

Meanwhile, Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Patrick O'Donovan insisted the Government cannot be blamed for the spread of the virus.

"Level 5, or Level 6, or Level 7 - it doesn't matter what level we go to unless we all act responsibly in this," he said.

"The Government responds to trends in which the virus presents itself, and tries to do as much as it can.

"We all need to collectively reduce the spread of it, but Government does not have the cure for this.

"Government can't combat this on its own. We can advise, we can put the tools in place and we can put the money in place, but the only people that can suppress the virus are the Irish people," he added.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell tweeted: "It appears that Nphet are briefing the media again - ahead of its primary function of advising Cabinet - causing speculation and worry.

"If this leaking continues, questions must be asked as to whether or not the body is fit for purpose in its current form."

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen opposed Level 5, urging: "Retain Level 3, work with it, implement it, adhere to it. Moving to 4 or 5 is running and hiding from Covid."

His colleague, Jim O'Callaghan, also repeated his opposition to Level 5.

Irish Independent


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