A meeting of government leaders was broken off last night without a decision on the level of restrictions to be introduced in the country.
No cabinet meeting is planned for Sunday. The cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss the next steps.
Senior sources said that on Saturday six of the state’s top politicians were reviewing the options available to the government and the implications of decisions to be made amid concerns over the rate of coronavirus growth in the republic.
The meeting was preceded by a private consultation between the state’s two leading doctors in public health and the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. There were briefings from senior members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and HSE Managing Director Paul Reid.
Leaving the meeting, Green chairman Eamon Ryan said the government shared concerns about the increasing numbers, which are also occurring in Europe and the rest of the world.
“The government has to balance a number of variables. Yes, we need to study the effects of the virus, but also the effects on society in so many different ways and how we respond to it, “he said.
In a government press release after the meeting, presentations were made on the nationwide situation regarding the virus and the economic, employment and societal impact of moving to tighter restrictions.
“The health team informed ministers that children in schools are safer, transmission rates are low and that the continued opening of schools is very important to the development and well-being of children and adolescents,” the statement said.
While no decisions have been taken, there is a growing expectation among some cabinet ministers that the country will be raised to higher alert levels in the coming days, but that it will be for six weeks by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
Sources said a pushback is expected in the implementation of some elements of Level 5, such as the closure of some economic sectors and the requirement that people be no more than three miles from their homes. The six weeks recommended by Nphet is also likely to be rejected.
A meeting of the Cabinet Ministers of Fine Gael by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, which is due to take place on Saturday at 7 p.m., has been postponed to Sunday 11 a.m.
The Saturday evening meeting was attended by Mr Varadkar, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Minister for Public Spending Michael McGrath, Treasury Secretary Paschal Donohoe and Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly. Before it started, the Taoiseach had a private meeting with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn.
The two Nphet members, along with Prof. Philip Nolan, who is also on the team, gave a presentation to the broader group of high-ranking politicians that lasted several hours. Paul Reid, the managing director of the Health Service Executive, also informed the group.
A number of presentations and discussions are expected to have been held on epidemiology, economics, health system capacity, mental health, communication, and the effects of household restrictions, including domestic violence, younger people, and the effects of isolation.
It came when senior backbench TDs in ruling parties raised concerns about the prospect of moving to Level 5. Barry Cowen, Offaly TD and former Secretary of Agriculture, tweeted Friday that the state should “Maintain Level 3, work with it and implement it, stick to it”.
He added, “The move to 4 or 5 is ongoing and hiding from Covid.”
Senior cabinet officials have privately shown deep concern about the transition to Level 5, with the economic impact being a primary concern. There are also concerns that recently announced restrictions had no chance to interfere and that if schools were to remain open, there could be conflicts with teachers’ unions.
James Lawless, the Fianna Fáil TD of Kildare North, told the Irish Times on Saturday that the introduction of Level 5 should increase oversight of the school system by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) by making Covid-19 a reportable disease is made. Once a case of reportable illness is received by the HSA, an inspection will follow, he said.
“While transmission among students remains low, schools are also a place of work and legislation should be changed to make Covid-19 a reportable event. We have tens of thousands of teachers on the front lines and they deserve the same protection as other sectors, ”Lawless said.
While the general cabinet sentiment is opposed to a move to Level 5, some sources pointed out Friday that an increase in restrictions might face less resistance due to circulating virus levels at the cabinet table.
The government TDs on Saturday expressed mixed views about the prospect of Level 5. A Fine Gael TD said the government is “damned if we do this and damned if we don’t, the virus gets out of hand if we do the trend there continues cannot be any other option ”.
A TD for Fianna Fáil said measures put in place during the week should be given a chance and that the effects of the level 3 restrictions put in place in recent weeks would not become apparent until this weekend. The TD said the government should wait but review the situation by the middle of next week.
Another former minister, Michael Ring, described the proposed postponement as a “cruel, gruesome” move. It’s cruel to the elderly, cruel to young people, cruel to people with mental illness, and cruel to people waiting for all sorts of other surgeries, “veteran Mayo TD said.
“The closure affected many companies and many jobs. People are depressed. They are down and they are depressed.
“The government is handling it badly now. We have to make both political and medical decisions, ”he said.
“My recommendation is that we should go back to level 2, where we have at least some normality.”
Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Bay South, also questioned the wisdom of the move on Friday.
He said reaching Level 5 does not mean “living with Covid” and called on the government to “wake up” to the effects of the measures.
“It is indeed a lock,” he said. “When deciding which level to switch to, we need to consider the impact of the level 5 switch. This will have a very negative impact on young people’s lives and mental health. “
“At some point we need to become aware of the damage we are doing to young people’s lives. Their education, employment, leisure pursuits, entertainment, and relationships have all been stopped or severely damaged by the restrictions, and they will be damaged even more with the transition to Level 5. “
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