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Ireland moves to Level 3 restrictions

Ireland moves to Level 3 restrictions

The government rejected the NPHET recommendation to place the entire country under Level 5 following exponential growth in Covid-19 cases

From midnight, 6 October, all counties in Ireland will be placed under Level 3 restrictions with improved enforcement under the country’s Plan for Living with COVID-19, the government decided yesterday. So far, only the counties of Donegal and Dublin were on Level 3, while the rest stood on Level 2.

Avoiding a second lockdown

What may be bad news to some is good news to others, as the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has earlier recommended introducing Level 5 restrictions nationwide due to “a significant escalation in the profile of the virus in Ireland over the last week”. Imposing the highest level in the Plan for Living with COVID-19 would have meant closure of all but essential retail outlets, a ban on social and family gatherings, matches or events and restriction on individual exercise to within 5km of people’s homes.

According to public broadcaster RTÉ, this is the first time an Irish government has disregarded significant public health advice from NPHET, charting its own course instead. The restrictions will be in place for 3 weeks and will be subjected to review by ministers.

The unexpected NPHET recommendation to push coronavirus measures to the limit sent ripples over Ireland’s political establishment with a heated debate expected in parliament today. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted that NPHET’s advice to move to Level 5 had been strongly influenced by the lack of capacity in the health service. She called on the government to provide additional supports for families, workers and businesses as every county moves to Level 3.

Half-baked recommendation

Deputy PM Leo Varadkar told RTÉ in an exclusive interview that the recommendation from the NPHET to move to Level 5 "hadn't been thought through and there hadn't been prior consultation". He said that NPHET had proposed adopting an unprecedented for Europe "circuit break" approach, which would have involved "a short, sharp, strict lockdown for three or four weeks in the hope that it will reduce the transmission of the virus suddenly to allow us to reopen again."

According to Varadkar, three key issues had influenced the decision of the three-party coalition government to reject the NPHET advice. First came the "wider societal impact" of such a move against the backdrop of "400,000 unemployed, tens of thousands of businesses that may never open again, social isolation and mental health issues."

Secondly, the recommendation was not in line with the "stepwise plan" agreed with NPHET and "the triggers that are there for Level 5 were not met, in our view." In the third place, the NPHET's assessment that hospitals were on the point of being overwhelmed was not shared by the CEO of the Health Service Executive and its Board had not been consulted, said the Deputy PM.

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