Oct 2020

Coalition leaders to meet Holohan to discuss NPHET’s Level 5 recommendation

The three coalition party leaders are to meet the chief medical officer on Monday to discuss a recommendaton from public health officials that the State should move to an effective national lockdown for four weeks in an attempt to get Covid-19 numbers under control.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on Sunday recommended that the whole country be moved to the highest level of restrictions in the Government’s Covid-19 roadmap amid concern over the spread of the disease and rising numbers in hospitals.

Level 5 would see a ban on all household visits and social or family gatherings, and only essential retail shops would be permitted to open. People would be advised to stay at home except for exercise within 5km of their home.

Only six people would be permitted to attend funerals and weddings. Unlike the previous lockdown announced last March, schools, creches, and higher education institutions would remain open, with additional protective measures.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes would move to offer takeaway services only, with no organised outdoor gatherings or sporting events to take place.

Dr Tony Holohan chaired the meeting as chief medical officer for the first time in several months, returning after taking time away from the role for family reasons.

He is expected to reiterate the rationale behind NPHET’s recommendation - which took the political system by surprise - in the meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. The meeting is expected to take place at noon.

Restriction impact
HSE chief executive Paul Reid tweeted on Monday morning that there was obvious concern about Covid-19 trends and figures.

“But we also know the impacts of severe and regular restrictions in society on the public health, wellbeing, mental health and the economy. Level 5 recommendation to Government has to be considered in this context too,” he said.

Any decision to move the country to Level 5 must be made by the Cabinet. It is anticipated that some Ministers will push back against the proposal and seek clarity on the reasons behind it.

A Cabinet meeting may be convened following the meeting between Dr Holohan and the coalition leaders. Any decision may first be discussed by the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19, or a group of senior civil servants appointed to consider NPHET advice, before a full Cabinet meeting takes place.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he doubted “many of us got a night’s sleep” after news of NPHET’s recommendation emerged late on Sunday.

“So many worries & questions on people’s minds. Leaks & speculation don’t help. Today needs to bring clarity. Until then let’s focus on what we can control & what we can do - keep distance, reduce contacts, wear face coverings,” he tweeted.

‘Political question’
Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan said the Covid-19 response was a “political question that should be answered by weighing up the current and future threat posed by Covid against the current and future threat posed by the restrictions.”

“We can’t answer that question by only considering Covid,” he tweeted on Monday.

At present Dublin and Donegal are on Level 3 restrictions, with additional measures restricting pubs and restaurants to outdoor seating only in the capital. The rest of the country is on Level 2.

In the past month the five-day average of cases - one key metric tracked by NPHET - has gone from 99 a day to 463.

The national incidence rate of the virus has trebled from 31 cases per 100,000 in 14 days to 108.9 per 100,000. Dublin’s incidence rate has hit 172.8 cases per 100,000, with Donegal seeing 189 cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days.

Published 5th October 2020 in Irish Times

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