A raft of new restrictions on how we go about our daily lives will be announced today as the battle against Covid-19 is stepped up.
utdoor activities are expected to be further curtailed while limits will be applied to public transport and some non-essential businesses, like restaurants.
Two more people have died from coronavirus in Ireland and another 219 cases have been confirmed, the Department of Health said yesterday. This brings the number of cases to 1,125. So far six people have died from coronavirus here.
The Irish Independent understands the Government is hesitant to move into ‘full lockdown’ mode – but “the moment” has come for tougher measures. Last night UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told families in the UK, including Northern Ireland, to stay at home except when shopping for basic necessities and to perform one type of exercise a day.
Sources said all of the measures announced by Mr Johnson were already down to be assessed at a crunch meeting of our National Public Health Emergency Team this morning. The country’s top medics will then make recommendations to a special Cabinet meeting. Senior sources said it will be a “significant day”.
The existing closure of schools, which is due to end on March 29, will be extended until at least the Easter holidays.
The NPHET will also look at whether hotels, non-grocery shops and other businesses can stay open and enforce social distancing rules.
The continued use of outdoor recreational areas such as public parks and playgrounds will also come under scrutiny.
“They will look at what is happening in other EU countries, they will study the data and everything will be led by the opinion of doctors,” said a Government source.
The process has been complicated by the fact that Northern Ireland has now overtaken the Republic in terms of restrictions.
A source said: “This impacts what happens here. Our decisions are our own to make - but it’s important that the whole island be as aligned as possible.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with other party leaders yesterday to discuss the crisis and left them with the impression that he will not rush into a total lockdown.
Sources at the meeting said they did not believe a lockdown is imminent and that discussions focussed on clarifying public health advice and more accurately defining what is an essential and non-essential business.
“There was a discussion on the need for more restrictions and also whether a lockdown was necessary and what a lockdown actually meant,” a source said.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan told attendees that health officials are continuously monitoring the need for increasing restrictions and will make recommendations when needed with further measures set to be outlined after a meeting of the NPHET on today.
A Government spokesman said the Cabinet would consider any updated advice from NPHET on the restricting the public’s movement and social distancing.
“In some cases there clearly is a need to reinforce the message of maintaining an adequate distance, especially for public places,” he said.
Questioned on why the Republic was not taking more drastic restrictive action at this stage, Dr Holohan has consistently said that measures such as lockdowns imposed by other countries were based on where they were in the spread of the disease.
In response to questions yesterday on whether the NPHET will consider closing non-essential services at its meeting today, he said it is always “part of the menu” of discussion.
“That has been on our agenda from the long list of potential measures that we could take.
“We have chosen the set that were recommended to government 10 days or so and if we need to do more we will make those recommendations that may or may not be among them.”
Dr Holohan said his officials are engaging with their colleagues in Northern Ireland “multiple times a day”.
“The disease does not recognise any border. We need to ensure that the measures we deploy are as coherent and consistent as they can be. We are converging in our approaches to that.
“The measures they are considering in Northern Ireland are measures we will also give consideration to in an ongoing basis,” he added.
Asked to comment on the current number of cases, which rose to 1,125 yesterday, after another jump of 219 new people diagnosed with the virus, he said the Republic remains in the “early stages of the infection” relative to how it may progress.
The expert group will consider whether to extend existing measures such as school and pub closures along with social distancing rules beyond March 29.