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Relationship between Government and Nphet 'changed forever' as ministers 'blindsided' by health experts' meeting


Decision: Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation last night. Photo: Julien Behal

Decision: Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation last night. Photo: Julien Behal

Decision: Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation last night. Photo: Julien Behal

Trust between the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) hit an all-time low as the Taoiseach faced down a shock demand to push the country into the highest level of lockdown.

During a tense meeting in Government Buildings, returning chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan faced a barrage of criticism from senior ministers.

One well-placed source told the Irish Independent that the relationship between the Government and Nphet had "changed forever".

Dr Holohan had stunned the Cabinet late on Sunday with a recommendation to impose Level 5 restrictions on the entire country.

He was backed by medical experts who said the trajectory of the virus in Ireland could pose a threat to hospital ICU capacity within weeks.

But the bid to impose Level 5 across the nation was shot down by senior Government ministers who argued that the economy and jobs must also be a factor in the battle against Covid-19.

One minister said Dr Holohan made the Level 5 recommendation without any "prior consultation" or "thinking it through".

"It was all about protecting normal hospital activity and maybe schools and childcare, while the private sector was to be sacrificed," the minister said.

"It is easy for 40 public servants to put 400,000 people out of their jobs while they don't lose a penny," the source added.

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They said the relationship between the Government and Nphet had "changed forever".

In a televised address last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the country would join Dublin and Donegal at Level 3.

"If we all act now we can stop the need to go further," he said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Nphet had proposed a so-called "circuit break" - "a short, sharp, strict lockdown for three or four weeks in the hope that it will reduce the transmission of the virus suddenly to allow us to reopen again".

"The problem that we had with the proposal that was put to us today was that we didn't feel it had been thought through properly."

Behind closed doors, Mr Martin, Mr Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe had all raised serious concerns about Nphet's proposals to shut down the country again.

Mr Donohoe was particularly cutting in his criticism of Dr Holohan and Nphet holding an emergency meeting on Sunday evening, a move that blindsided the Government.

Mr Donohoe said Dr Holohan's plan would have serious economic consequences and force thousands into unemployment.

He also said forcing the country into lockdown would make it more difficult to access European Central Bank (ECB) funding or allow the country to borrow on the international markets.

One source said Mr Donohoe told Dr Holohan he had put the Government in an "invidious position".

The chief medical officer was also told the Government would now get "unfairly" blamed for rising deaths because Nphet had pushed for a lockdown and it decided against imposing the highest level of restrictions.

After the meeting, the three Government leaders decided to reject Nphet's call for a lockdown and instead to increase Covid restrictions to Level 3 across the entire country.

Rules on house visits will remain the same to ensure people do not become isolated in the next round of Covid-19 measures.

This means six people from one household can visit another home.

Gardaí will use their new enforcement powers to crack down on pubs and restaurants who fail to comply with Covid-19 regulations. Senior management is also finalising plans to increase the visibility of officers on the ground.

But further additional powers for gardaí have been ruled out by the Government.

With the country moving to Level 3 from midnight tonight, there were predictions that 50,000 bar staff and 180,000 restaurant workers would lose their jobs.

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