Ireland to resist lockdown, tighten Covid-19 restrictions: Reports

The National Public Health Emergency Team called for a leap to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions, Level 5, on Oct 4, 2020.
The National Public Health Emergency Team called for a leap to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions, Level 5, on Oct 4, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBLIN (REUTERS) - Ireland’s government is set to reject a surprise recommendation by its health chiefs to go into lockdown and will instead propose a tightening of current Covid-19 restrictions, two government sources said on Monday (Oct 5). 

The National Public Health Emergency Team called for a leap to the highest level of coronavirus curbs, Level 5, late on Sunday, having told the government as recently as Thursday the current Level 2 status for most of the country was appropriate. 

The cabinet will instead meet at 1630 GMT to discuss moving the whole country to Level 3, the sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters after a two-hour meeting between senior ministers and the health chiefs. 

Ministers faced sharp political and business resistance to what would have amounted to Europe’s first major second wave national lockdown. The rejection represents the first time the government has gone against the health chiefs’ Covid-19 advice. 

While Ireland reported the highest number of daily new infections since late April on Saturday, its 14-day cumulative case total of 104 per 100,000 people is only the 14th highest infection rate among 31 European countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control. 

However one of the health officials who advised a lockdown said Ireland’s limited hospital capacity meant it could run out of intensive care beds by the start of November if the current trajectory of Covid-19 cases continued. 

Under Level 5, people would have been asked to stay at home, except to exercise within 5 km, with only essential retailers allowed to stay open – similar to the seven-week lockdown that was among the longest imposed in Europe earlier this year. 

As they shifted to Level 3 over the past two weeks, all indoor restaurant dining and non-essential travel to other counties was banned in Dublin and the northwestern region of Donegal. 

Those tighter local restrictions have kept the unemployment rate just below 15 per cent, although the large multinational sector and exports in less impacted sectors have shielded the economy from the worst of the crisis.