The country faces a nationwide lockdown at Christmas unless stricter measures are introduced in the face of surging coronavirus cases, health experts have warned.
Already there are warnings from some health experts over the situation at Christmas unless harder lockdowns are introduced now. The Level 3 restrictions introduced yesterday will not be enough to drive down the number of cases, Professor Anthony Staines, head of health systems at DCU, told the Irish Independent. "We need to go to Level 4 today," he said.
"Looking at the Dublin figures for the last few days, the numbers have stabilised so it seems likely that what we are doing at the moment will hold things steady.
"But to push things down will take a sharper jolt. Every day you delay is a day added to the other end, at least. If we are going to do this and give people a bit of hope for Christmas, we need to do it as soon as possible."
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, who this week spearheaded the call by Nphet for the entire country to move into Level 5, would not be drawn in making predictions beyond next month.
But projections showed that if the spread of the virus continues unabated, we will see 1,600 to 2,300 cases a day by November.
"If we can collectively as a country get back to the solidarity we saw earlier, there is nothing inevitable about the spread of this virus," Dr Holohan said. But he too issued a warning about the festive season ahead.
"At various points in the year, there are events that need specific consideration. We will give that to Christmas and we hope we are not in a position at Christmas, in disease terms, where we are having to advise people they can't meet other households or travel outside their houses. We understand how socially challenging that would be for people."
He also warned: "If our reproductive number ends up being 2 or 2.5 because of the way we socialise over Christmas, then it matters greatly if our cases are 50 a day or 500 a day or 1,000 a day before Christmas. It is January that would be the concern then."
His Nphet colleague, Professor Philip Nolan, said we could "still save Christmas" if we changed our behaviours in the coming weeks.
Separately, Professor Staines, part of the "Zero Covid" group, argued for immediate action.
‘Level 4 today’: Professor Anthony Staines of DCU. Photo: Mark Condren
He said he agreed in theory with what Nphet had proposed, but Level 4 would be more appropriate than Level 5.
"To bring numbers down to where they need to be is going to take something like three to four weeks of quite severe restrictions," he said.
"We would suggest Level 4 rather than 5 because it's less disruptive. A lot of small businesses close at Level 5 but they stay open at 4."
He said the major flaw with the Nphet proposal was that there was no strategy to deal with what would happen after a period of Level 5 restrictions ended: "To close everything that you possibly can, and then just pray, is not enough."
Meanwhile UCC Professor Gerry Killeen, who worked in Haiti during the Zika outbreak and has extensive experience of lockdowns there, said the "time for half measures had passed" and Level 3 restrictions were not enough to deal with current trends.
"Right now we need to lockdown hard," he said. "We will find ourselves there sooner or later, but sooner is a lot better
Government sources said they were looking at restrictions by county, rather than nationwide measures, after the current phase of rules.
One senior government source said nowhere else in the EU had introduced a second lockdown - including countries such as Spain and the Netherlands where higher new cases numbers than Ireland are being recorded.
However, they added "all could change" and insisted "anyone speaking with certainty is bluffing".
Meanwhile Business Minister Robert Troy said off-licences should be closed for three weeks amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19.
His proposal goes further than Government plans to significantly reduced their opening hours.
The issue was discussed at Fianna Fáil's parliamentary party meeting last night.
Kildare North TD James Lawless said the Government needed a plan for Christmas and people had to know sooner rather than later as to what would be safe, including whether family would be allowed home from abroad and get-togethers in private houses would be allowed.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland