The Government appears set to reject the advice of public health officials to implement a full Level 5 lockdown with the closure of non-essential retail from St Stephen’s Day.
In a letter sent Wednesday, the Irish Times reports the National Public Health Emergency Team advised a full Level 5 lockdown for six weeks from St Stephen’s Day, which would also include an earlier ban on household visits than currently planned.
On Thursday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the data to date had shown that non-essential retail was not affecting the spread of the virus.
The Minister told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that the Cabinet would consider Nphet's advice when it meets on December 29th – three days after health officials have called for the advice to be implemented.
Mr Coveney rejected the suggestion that the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions at the beginning of December had been a mistake.
All the Government’s decisions were made on the basis of the most recent data and evidence, which was changing all the time. It was easy to be wise after the event, he said.
Christmas Eve closures
It comes as public health officials have told Government that Ireland’s Covid-19 situation is now the most serious it has been since the pandemic arrived in March.
Current measures designed to suppress soaring infection rates will not be sufficient to bring cases below 1,000 each day and a full lockdown should come into force from St Stephen’s Day, Nphet has said.
The Republic will begin to enter a Level 5 lockdown with “specific adjustments” from 3pm today on Christmas Eve.
Under the new restrictions taking effect on Christmas Eve:
- Current household visit rules remain in place up to St Stephen’s Day and then reduce to one other household until December 31st.
- Inter-county is permitted up to and including December 26th.
- Christmas religious services can take place but move online after December 25th.
- Travel restrictions from Britain remain in place until December 31st.
- Restaurants and pubs serving food close from 3pm on Christmas Eve.
- Hairdressers and personal services close from Christmas Eve.
- Non-essential retail can remain open.
- Gyms can stay open for individual training. The 5km limit will not be implemented but people are encouraged to exercise close to home.
However, Nphet’s Professor Philip Nolan has said he does not believe current measures will be sufficient to drive the R number of the virus below 1 and case numbers of around 1,000 per day will continue.
The R number, an estimate of how quickly the virus is moving through the population, is currently estimated between 1.5 and 1.8.
It comes as new Dublin City Council figures show traffic volumes hit 86 per cent of pre-Covid levels by mid-December, with businesses groups welcoming a boost in trade.
Nphet confirmed a further 938 new cases of Covid-19 and 13 additional deaths on Wednesday evening.
A senior HSE official also warned on Wednesday that the coronavirus situation in Ireland is deteriorating at a faster pace than anywhere in Europe.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the infection rate is “frightening” and the curve is moving in an almost “vertical direction”.