The country will return to full lockdown — working at home with no socialising and only essential outlets open — if Government accepts “shock” new advice from NPHET.
The National Public Health Emergency Team is recommending the highest possible controls, Level 5, and for the next four weeks.
The seeking of maximum lockdown nationwide has shocked the Government. The three Coalition leaders will meet Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan tomorrow.
The Level 5 restrictions advice comes in a letter from the national public health emergency team, after a weekend that saw almost 1,000 new infections.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan returned to chair an unusual Sunday conference of NPHET, a sign that the situation is regarded as highly serious.
“This has come as a surprise,” said a Government spokeswoman.
An official source commented: “This has surprised Government, given its societal and economic indications.
It will be discussed by the three Coalition party leaders with the Chief Medical Officer tomorrow and then by Government.”
Dr Holohan had been expected back at his desk today, resuming the helm from Dr Ronan Glynn, his deputy, after taking force majeure leave for family reasons in July.
There are now 134 people in hospital with Covid-19, the highest number since the end of June.
The upward statistical creep effectively now pits the Government against the CMO in a possible crisis for the Cabinet in its consideration of public health advice.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said yesterday (Sunday): “It is very difficult and tough on people. But as a Government we have to stand ready.
“Further recommendations from NPHET will be examined swiftly.”
Sources said last night initially suggested that the Government would not defy any recommendation from Dr Holohan on his first day back in the job following his wife’s illness.
But when Level 5 was recommended, there was a stunned reaction from Government.
Besides the meeting of the three coalition leaders and the CMO, the request for additional restrictions will go to an oversight committee headed by the country’s top civil servant, Martin Fraser, which would consider wider societal and economic impacts.
Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath slammed NPHET recommendations that the entire country should be moved to level 5.
The Independent TD said it was “detrimental to the business community and wider society” and has called on NPHET to be held to account for the “damage“ that would result, calling an “extreme announcement.”
Mr McGrath said: “This evening‘s news will come as a massive shock to many and will cause huge uncertainty and lack of confidence within the business community and wider society.t
“It is exactly this type of scenario that we were supposed to avoid by having the Living with Covid plan to ensure that Business and society could operate effectively with restrictions and plan ahead as we move gradually through the different levels.“
The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid could then meet tomorrow (Monday). An incorporeal Cabinet meeting could then rubber-stamp any proposals.
Mr McGrath had said he sincerely hoped further restrictions would not be necessary at lunchtime.
He added: ”But I think we have to be straight with people. The numbers are deeply concerning and the current trend that we are witnessing is not sustainable.
"I know that people are weary. We are all weary. Everyone has paid a price in terms of their own personal liberty. Many have paid a very significant economic price because of the restrictions that we have had to impose, and the overall economic impact of Covid-19.
"But we need to get on top of this and we need to do more. We all need to ask ourselves what more can we do to adhere to the public health advice, which we all know at this stage.”
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan commented: “What we a re seeking to do here is not to eradicate the virus, because I don’t think that’s going to be a viable option, but to stabilise it. I think there is real concern.
“When you look at counties outside Dublin, it is rising very fast. We need to do the simple things — reduce the number of people we meet and to avoid social contact.
If we all do that I think we (in Dublin ) can avoid going to Level 4 and other counties can avoid going to Level 3.”
If there was a renewal of public vigilance in the time ahead, “I hope that Dublin can get back to Level 2, and Donegal too,” he said.
Róisín Shortall, co-leader of Social Democrats declared: “We have no choice but to work together to turn back this tidal wave that is coming towards us. We have to do whatever action is needed at this point.
“We want the public to support the public health messaging, but the Government must also play its part fully. They haven’t been doing that to date.
“There are two areas of concern. The first is testing and tracing. We know that the test turnaround time is not sufficiently rapid. The turnaround time now is three and a half days. That needs to be improved upon. But the tracing is also only going back 48 hours — it needs to go back further.
“The other area I am concerned about is travel. There is absolutely no monitoring of people coming in at our ports and airports.
“There are four countries on the green list, so the vast majority of people coming in or returning to this country are coming from countries that are not on the green lists and would be regarded as high risk.
“There is no monitoring going on at this stage, and I cannot understand why a blind eye is being shown. Nobody is taking responsibility for this area.”
She said there was no doubt that there had been State complacency over the summer months. “There was a lull during the summer months when the service needed to be ramped up. Regrettably that wasn’t done.”
A total of 364 new confirmed cases of the virus were reported last night. Including Saturday’s figure of 613, the weekend total comes to 977.
No new deaths were recorded, with the national toll standing at 1,810 fatalities. There have now been 38,032 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland this year, with cases now rising at 4-5 per cent per day and the R-number moving to between 1.2 and 1.4, showing the virus has not been contained.
Three quarters of the new cases are in the age groups under 45 years, with a national incidence rate of 108 per 100,000 over the last fortnight.
Lifford/Stranorlar in Donegal has a current rate of 602.6 per 100,000 and Celbridge in Kildare 305.2. The Kimmage/Rathmines area of Dublin has a rate of 282.8.
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