Cabinet to meet Monday as government fails to reach decision on Level 5 restrictions

The meeting ended at 8pm after 1,276 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed with 149 cases reported in Cork. 
Cabinet to meet Monday as government fails to reach decision on Level 5 restrictions

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan leaves Government Buildings after briefing party leaders and ministers on why they should move to Level 5 straight away. Picture: SamBoal/RollingNews.ie

The Government has failed to reach a decision on a move to level 5 restrictions after meeting National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) officials in Government buildings today.

Leaving the meeting of Government leaders, Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan said no clear decisions had been made by the leaders of the three coalition parties after a long afternoon of meetings.

"It's complex, there are so many different variables.

"So we will come back to it again early next week, obviously the Government will look at matters further and in the meantime do a lot of further work," said Mr Ryan. 

No Cabinet meeting is expected tomorrow, however, Cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss further Covid-19 restrictions.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pictured leaving Government buildings this evening after Nphet's Level 5 briefing. Picture: SamBoal/RollingNews.ie
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pictured leaving Government buildings this evening after Nphet's Level 5 briefing. Picture: SamBoal/RollingNews.ie

Mr Ryan said the Government "shares the concern" of Nphet around growing Covid-19 cases, however, he said other factors and "wider considerations" have to be taken into account.

After today's meeting, another senior government source said "there are a lot of considerations to evaluate," and that public health, mental health, public services, jobs, and the financial impact of further restrictions all have to be balanced and considered before a decision is made

In a statement from government, it was highlighted that during the meetings with Nphet, all effects of any further restrictions were considered.

"Presentations were... given on the economic, employment and society wide implications of moving to more severe restrictions.

"Other significant issues were also discussed such as mental health and domestic violence."

The Cabinet subcommittee were also briefed about the Covid-19 situation in schools.

"The Health team briefed Ministers that children were safer in schools, transmission rates are low, and that the continued opening of schools is very important to the development and wellbeing of children and young people."

Options to consider

No announcement on further Covid restrictions is expected tonight after Government leaders met with Nphet today.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was in Government Buildings with a number of senior Government members, mulling over various options, until the meeting ended around 8pm.

A series of meetings were held in Government buildings today after Nphet recommended that the entire country be moved to level 5 restrictions as cases of coronavirus spike across the country.

It comes as 1,276 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported this evening.

Government leaders are continuing to assess Nphet's recommendation which would see the country go into the tightest level of restrictions if accepted.

A Cabinet meeting would have to be held to sign off on a move up to level 5 or any further restrictions. 

However, it is understood that there is division within Government around implementing further measures which would have a devastating impact on businesses.

The Cabinet subcommittee considered Nphet advice this evening.  Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
The Cabinet subcommittee considered Nphet advice this evening.  Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Government leaders and members of Nphet gathered at Government Buildings for the meeting just after 3pm.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin met with Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan for a private briefing before the main meeting.

Dr Holohon was joined by Ronan Glynn and Philip Nolan to brief the three Government leaders, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. 

HSE chief Paul Reid also attended the meeting which went on until just before 6pm.

It is understood the Nphet members gave a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind Friday’s recommendation to move the entire country to the most severe level of restrictions for six weeks.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan along with the three ministers then held a further meeting to analyse the NPHET recommendations.

Leo Varadkar was seen leaving Government Buildings just before 7.30pm, with the other members of Government remaining in talks until after 8pm, when the meeting ended.

Nphet leave government buildings

Earlier, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) left Government buildings after delivering their brief to the Cabinet subcommittee for Covid-19. 

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn were delivering their recommendation to a move to Level 5 restrictions while Professor Philip Nolan, and HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid delivered briefings on Covid-19 infection rates and hospital capacity. 

The meeting took place in two parts with Nphet presenting its case for a move to Level 5 which was then followed by a Q&A. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan along with Ministers Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, and Michael McGrath then considered their options. 

A move to Level 5 requires full Cabinet agreement but it is not going to take place this evening. 

It is understood there is considerable resistance among Ministers to skip Level 4 and move directly to Level 5 without allowing Level 3 restrictions to operate for longer.  

Speaking as he left the meeting, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said the decision now lies with the government. 

Asked to elaborate on the outcome of the meeting, Mr Reid said: "Leave that to the politicians."

No other senior public health official offered comment after the meeting. 

For the fourth day in a row, the number of new infections in the Republic has reached four figures with 1,276 new cases confirmed. 

Nphet also offered no comment on the latest case data this evening. 

Level 5 government briefing now underway

A Cabinet subcommittee meeting on whether to accept the Nphet's recommendation to move to Level 5 restrictions is now underway. 

Government party leaders, Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar, and Eamon Ryan along with Ministers Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, and Michael Mcgrath are receiving a briefing from Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn about the new measures. 

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy CMO Dr. Ronan Glynn arrive to brief party leaders on why they want to move to Level 5 restrictions. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy CMO Dr. Ronan Glynn arrive to brief party leaders on why they want to move to Level 5 restrictions. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Professor Philip Nolan, the chair of the Irish epidemiological modelling group is also presenting to the subcommittee about the latest case data while Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, is to give a presentation about hospital capacity. 

Introducing Level 5 restrictions would require a full meeting of the Cabinet which is unlikely to take place this evening following the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19.

It comes as the CMO met with the Taoiseach privately ahead of the scheduled coalition leaders meeting this afternoon. 

This is the second time in a fortnight that Nphet has advised a move to Level 5 restrictions. 

Arriving at Government buildings, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan cautioned against rushed decisions but said no option should be ruled out.

Mr Ryan said: "You don't want to rush in. [To] make the right decision that can take a bit of time to consider all the options, I don't think we should rule anything out." 

Mr Ryan added that he wants to see further data about how some counties are faring with new restrictions as case numbers appear to stabilise. 

"In certain counties, it has seemed to have stablised somewhat so I don't think we should be categoric and that's why I'm keen to see all the figures as to see any evidence of further stabilisation which is what we want," said Mr Ryan. 

"Further Action"

Yesterday, the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee met to discuss a raft of further Covid restrictions after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended a second lockdown for the entire country.

The Taoiseach has warned that "further action" is needed ahead of a meeting of the three party leaders to discuss the advice to move the entire country to level five restrictions for a period of six weeks.

Speaking yesterday in Brussels at an EU summit, Mr Martin said the idea was under "active consideration".

"We’re giving this very active consideration, the situation is very serious,” he said. "We will need further action in relation to this. When we respond, it will be a comprehensive response."

It is the second such recommendation from Nphet in the last two weeks, but the Government has not heeded the advice so far. It comes as three more deaths and 1,000 more cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday evening.

Living with Covid-19, Level 5
Living with Covid-19, Level 5

Of the latest coronavirus cases, 254 were in Dublin, 102 in Meath, 88 in Cork, 81 in Cavan, 75 in Galway, and the remaining 400 were spread across 20 counties.

Different Experience 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned that a second lockdown would be more difficult than the first. He said social isolation in winter can be a very different experience to when it occurs in spring.

"I do certainly feel that a second lockdown will be a lot more difficult than the first, and the public would want and expect to know what the exit strategy is — how long it would go on for and what the target is, what we're actually trying to achieve and at what point would we be able to ease restrictions again," he said.

Nphet has recommended that all 26 counties should move to level five restrictions under the Government's five-tier response plan, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. 

It recommends schools remain open, but that Ireland return to a state of lockdown similar to that seen in March in a bid to ensure there are no major restrictions over Christmas. 

The recommendation came just days after border counties Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan were moved into level four in order to stem the rising number of cases linked to cross-border travel, and to marry up with stricter regulations in the North.

Level five restrictions would mean people would not be allowed travel more than 5km from their homes, all non-essential retail outlets would have to close, and restaurants and cafes would only be allowed to provide delivery and takeaways.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to discuss Nphet's advice to move the country to level five for six weeks. Picture: Julien Behal
Taoiseach Micheál Martin will meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to discuss Nphet's advice to move the country to level five for six weeks. Picture: Julien Behal

No more than 10 people would be allowed to attend a funeral, while weddings would be limited to a maximum of six attendees.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Right now, we need everyone to cut their social contacts to an absolute minimum. 

Every time you physically interact with another person, you are providing an opportunity for the virus to spread

Meanwhile, a ballot of inter-county players taken by the Gaelic Players Association on whether to proceed with the 2020 championships shows that players are split on the issue.

More than half (52%) of inter-county players who responded to the survey want the championships to go ahead, 24% of players said they want to proceed only if improvements are made to the implementation of coronavirus protocols, and 24% of players do not want the championship to proceed at all.

The survey comes as two teams, Wexford and Fermanagh, who have both been hit by outbreaks of Covid-19, are both expected to field players for their respective games this weekend.

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