The government will accept further nationwide restrictions tomorrow to stop the spread of coronavirus infections, said Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has twice called for the State to move to Level 5, the highest level in the plan of States Living With Covid, although Ministers have so far resisted such a move.
Most counties are currently at Level 3, with three of the Border counties – Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan – at Level 4.
But signaling a possible move at least in the Level 4 restrictions, Mr Harris said the Level 3 measure did not work towards sending the virus where it should be reached and the virus trajectory has to do with health officials.
The government will act tomorrow. The action will be decisive and the action will be fair across the country – it will be nationwide action, he told RTs Java in Politics.
It is clear now that the virus is at such a level within all our communities, circuit-by-circuit access will not be enough, so tomorrow we will have to bring more restrictions.
Mr Harris said senior Government Ministers heard briefings Saturday from Nphet and HSE on Saturday for four to five hours on health concerns, but they also heard about the effect of the blockade earlier this year on society, such as a increase in domestic violence.
This is different from March and April. We are asking people to take more restrictions a second time and we need to balance that with our honest view of what people can and will hold, but we will act tomorrow, he said.
Asked about the possibility of keeping some businesses open, Mr Harris said the Government could not extend the inevitable or make things piecemeal.
If we are to try to get back on top of this virus, we will have to take decisive action tomorrow and what the Government is trying to do is find that landing place that is enough to get us where we want to go. as well as recognizing many different requirements, he said.
A meeting of government leaders broke up last night without any decision on the level of restrictions that would be imposed on the country.
There is no Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday, with the Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss next steps.
Senior sources said that on Saturday six of the oldest politicians in the state considered the options available to the Government and the implications of the decisions to be taken, amid concerns over the rate of coronavirus growth in the Republic.
The meeting was preceded by a private consultation between the two best public health physicians of the United States and Taoiseach, Michel Martin. There was briefing from senior members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and HSE chief executive Paul Reid.
Speaking as he left the meeting Saturday night, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the government shares concerns about rising numbers, which he said are also happening across Europe and the rest of the world.
The government needs to balance a whole range of variables. Yes, we need to look at the impact of the virus, but also the impacts in many different ways on society and the way we react to it, he said.
A Government press release after the meeting said presentations were made on the situation across the country in relation to the virus, as well as on the broad economic, employment and societal implications of moving to more severe restrictions.
The health team informed the Ministers that children were safer in schools, transmission levels are low and that the continued opening of schools is very important for the development and well-being of children and young people, the statement said.
While no decision has been made, there is a growing expectation among some cabinet ministers that the country will move to a higher level of readiness in the coming days, but that it will fall below level 5 for the six-week recommendation made. by Nphet.
Sources said the postponement of the reception is expected to implement some Level 5 elements, such as closing down some sectors of the economy and determining that people should not travel more than five kilometers from their home. The six-week duration recommended by Nphet is likely to be resisted.
An announcement by Fine Gael cabinet ministers from Tnaiste Leo Varadkar, scheduled to take place at 7pm on Saturday, came back again at 11am on Sunday.
Saturday evening meeting was attended by Mr. Varadkar, Taoiseach Michel Martin, Minister of Public Expenditure Michael McGrath, Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly. Before starting, Taoiseach had a private meeting with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
Both Nphet members, along with Prof Philip Nolan, who is also on the team, gave a presentation to the wider group of senior politicians which lasted for several hours. Mr Reid also briefed the group.
Understandably a series of presentations and discussions took place regarding epidemiology, economics, the capacity of the health care system, mental health, communications as well as the impact of domestic constraints, including domestic violence, youth and the impact of isolation.
It came as high-level TDs in ruling parties raised concerns over the prospect of moving to Level 5. Barry Cowen, Offaly TD and former agriculture minister, wrote on Twitter Friday that the State should maintain Level 3, work with it, implement it, adhere to it.
He added: Moving to 4 or 5 is running and hiding from Covid.
Senior Cabinet figures have privately shown deep concern about the transition to Level 5, with the impact on the economy most prominent in their minds. There are also concerns that the recently announced restrictions have not had a chance to sleep and that there could be conflict with teachers’ unions if schools were to remain open.
James Lawless, Fianna Fil TD for Kildare North, told The Irish Times on Saturday that if Level 5 is introduced, oversight of the school system by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) should increase making Covid-19 a visible disease. . Once a case of a known disease occurs in the HSA, an inspection follows, he said.
While transmission among students remains low, schools are also a workplace and relevant legislation needs to be changed to make Covid-19 a notable event. We have tens of thousands of teachers on the front line and they deserve the same protection as other sectors, Mr Lawless said.
While the general mood of the Cabinet is against a move to Level 5, some sources on Friday indicated that an increase in restrictions may have less resistance at the Cabinet table due to the levels of virus circulating.
Government TDs on Saturday expressed mixed views about the prospect of moving to Level 5. A Fine Gael TD said the Government is cursed if we do and cursed if we do not, the virus is getting out of control if the trend continues there may be no other option.
A Fianna Fil TD said the measures introduced during the week should be given a possible bed and that the impact of the Level 3 restrictions introduced in recent weeks would only become apparent this weekend. TD said the government should wait but review the situation in the middle of next week.
Another former minister, Michael Ring, described the proposed change as a cruel, cruel act. It is cruel to the elderly, cruel to the young, cruel to people with mental illness and cruel to people who are waiting for all sorts of other surgeries, said veteran Mayo TD.
The closure has affected many businesses, a lot of work. People are depressed. They are down and depressed.
The government is tackling this badly now. We have to make political decisions as well as medical decisions, he claimed.
My recommendation is that we should go back to Level 2 where we at least have a bit of normalcy.
Jim OCallaghan, Fianna Fil TD for Dublin Bay South, also questioned the wisdom of the move on Friday.
He said going to Level 5 is not living with Covid and urged the Government to wake up from the influence of the masses.
In fact, it is a deadlock, he said. When deciding which level to pass we must consider the consequences of moving to Level 5. This will have a very negative impact on the lives of young people and mental health.
At some point we need to wake up from the damage we are causing to the lives of young people. Their education, employment, leisure, entertainment and relationships have been severely curtailed or damaged by restrictions, and they will be further harmed by moving to Level 5.
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