The entire country should be put on Level 5 restrictions for a period of four weeks, the Government has been told, in a move that has led to widespread shock and concern at the impact such restrictions could have.
While the country on Monday morning remains at Level 2 – or in Dublin and Donegal Level 3 – Government sources said the recommendation had put it in an “impossible position”.
Cabinet sources expressed deep concern about the impact on the economy and society moving to such a level of alert would entail, as well as whether it would be accepted by the wider public.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met on Sunday to discuss the rising incidence of the virus, as well as the potential impact on the health system of escalating case numbers.
While there was a growing expectation on Sunday that some increase in the State’s alertness level was likely to be recommended, the suggestion of a full lockdown of the Republic took the country’s political leadership by surprise.
On Sunday evening, Cabinet sources expressed serious reservations about adopting the recommendation. One Minister said: “My worry is people won’t accept it. People have just had it. They find these restrictions very difficult; not to have some limited form of human contact.”
The Minister said the only other country in the world with similar restrictions, if adopted, would be Israel.
Anger over communication
Another said Cabinet would want an explanation of a “blanket move” to Level 5. There was also anger at how the news emerged through the media on Sunday evening, with Ministers saying a full Cabinet meeting should have taken place, and the move should have been communicated through an address to the nation by the Taoiseach.
Moving to Level 5 would entail no visitors being permitted in the home; no gatherings except funerals or weddings, where only six people can attend; no indoor events; no sports events; and bars, cafes and restaurants being open only for takeaway or delivery.
People would be advised to stay at home and exercise within only 5km of their home, and public transport avoided, with only 25 per cent capacity permitted for essential workers.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will meet chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Monday morning to discuss the recommendation. After that, a full Cabinet meeting may follow, or the next steps may be discussed by the group of senior officials appointed to consider NPHET advice, or the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid, or both.
Elsewhere, the Government is set to reform the State’s personal insolvency regime to allow full access to court protection for those struggling debtors hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, debtors can seek to have a personal insolvency arrangement which has been rejected by their creditors, but only if their mortgage was in arrears before the start of 2015.
Under plans being progressed by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, this will be removed. “In the context of the current pandemic, these problems risk denying homeowners in difficulty the protection afforded by the Personal Insolvency Act if they are struggling to pay what they owe,” she said.
Meanwhile, a new study has found that threat of arrests, fines or quarantine do not encourage people to behave in line with public health advice on Covid-19. The research of global attitudes was undertaken by academics at NUI Galway.
A total of 364 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Sunday, with no new deaths related to the condition. Ten deaths were reported on Saturday.
The total number of Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic of Ireland remains at 1,810, and the total number of confirmed cases stands at 38,032.