Gov­ern­ment to con­sider Level 5 as Nphet seeks six-week lock­down

Gov­ern­ment fig­ures con­cerned an­other lock­down could last much longer Grow­ing wor­ries that the State’s con­tact trac­ing sys­tem is be­ing put un­der pres­sure

The Irish Times - - Front Page - JEN­NIFER BRAY, PAT LEAHY, JACK HOR­GAN-JONES and FREYA McCLE­MENTS

Coali­tion party lead­ers will meet to­day to give de­tailed con­sid­er­a­tion to a fresh call from the State’s pub­lic health team to in­crease re­stric­tions to the high­est pos­si­ble level.

The Na­tional Pub­lic Health Emer­gency Team (Nphet) has again rec­om­mended a move to Level 5 as case lev­els of Covid-19 con­tinue to de­te­ri­o­rate.

While it has been sug­gested that Level 5 re­stric­tions could last six weeks, se­nior Gov­ern­ment fig­ures have ex­pressed con­cern that an­other lock­down could in fact last much longer, with ma­jor eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as “very se­ri­ous” while Tá­naiste Leo Varad­kar warned that a sec­ond lock­down would be a lot more dif­fi­cult than the first. Sources close to Green Party leader Ea­mon Ryan have in­di­cated that he also has con­cerns about the eco­nomic im­pact and length of an­other lock­down.

Nphet is un­der­stood to have writ­ten to the Gov­ern­ment with warn­ings about what could hap­pen if its ad­vice is not fol­lowed. There is a high level of con­cern among Min­is­ters, how­ever, that the warn­ings do not take into ac­count other health ser­vices or the econ­omy.

Fur­ther­more, the Gov­ern­ment be­lieves it can quickly add ca­pac­ity to hos­pi­tals and in­ten­sive care units.

Job losses

There is also un­der­stood to be sig­nif­i­cant re­luc­tance at the high­est level of Gov­ern­ment to move to Level 5 im­me­di­ately. Sources close to the top of Gov­ern­ment say that the new re­stric­tions in­tro­duced recently have not been given a chance to work.

There are also fears that in the event of a Level 5 lock­down, the schools would inevitably close be­cause teach­ers’ unions

would not coun­te­nance their mem­bers be­ing ex­posed to the risks of work­ing when most other peo­ple are be­ing told to stay at home. Other sources have warned of a huge spike in job losses which would en­dure un­til well into next year.

There is a di­vide in opin­ion among Min­is­ters, how­ever, around what should hap­pen next. One said a “big de­ci­sion” would need to be made this week­end and that it was be­com­ing “harder to hold the line” on the cur­rent Level 3 mea­sures that ap­ply. Ca­van, Mon­aghan and Done­gal are all cur­rently un­der Level 4.

Any tight­en­ing of re­stric­tions in the rest of the coun­try would re­sult in the clo­sure of many re­tail ser­vices, gyms, and leisure cen­tres.

New exit strat­egy

The three party lead­ers will meet around lunchtime to­day to dis­cuss the im­pli­ca­tions of the pub­lic health ad­vice. It is un­der­stood that they will dis­cuss a new exit strat­egy to set out clearly for the pub­lic the path­way by which the State could re­turn to a lower level. This will in­volve set­ting tar­gets for what needs to be achieved, a se­quence for re­open­ing, de­tails around en­force­ment, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions plan and a strat­egy for pan­demic wel­fare pay­ments.

Sep­a­rately, there is also grow­ing con­cern the State’s con­tact trac­ing sys­tem, a key way of con­trol­ling the virus, is be­ing put un­der pres­sure.

A fur­ther 1,000 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths of peo­ple with the coro­n­avirus were an­nounced yes­ter­day by the Depart­ment of Health, with peo­ple urged to cut so­cial con­tacts to “an ab­so­lute min­i­mum”.

North­ern Ire­land recorded 1,299 new Covid-19 cases, its high­est daily to­tal yet, ahead of the in­tro­duc­tion of new re­stric­tions aimed at lim­it­ing the spread of the virus. Two more deaths were re­ported, bringing the of­fi­cial num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties to 608.

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