A return to a full “March-style” Level 5 lockdown may be implemented within days as Government ministers are set to meet following “exponential growth” in Covid-19 cases.
The Cabinet will hold an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday to decide whether additional measures are required to control soaring rates of infection across the country, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ radio.
The introduction of full Level 5 restrictions at the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will be discussed at the emergency meeting, the Irish Examiner reports.
The Government has already imposed a lockdown with “specific” adjustments, closing all bars and restaurants and banning all household visits from January 1st.
However, non-essential retail, gyms and schools remain open in a deviation from the stricter lockdown that took place in March when the pandemic first arrived in Ireland.
The implementation of a full Level 5 lockdown would see non-essential retailers shut, along with a ban on non-essential movement beyond 5 kilometres of a person’s home for exercise.
"We will look right across the spectrum... and see in light of the rising cases and the rise in hospitalisations what the appropriate thing to do is," Minister Donnelly said on Tuesday.
It is currently expected that schools will reopen after the Christmas holidays, despite the suggestion they close for an additional week to further suppress the spread of the virus.
However, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has said all options will remain on the table at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.
He added events such as New Year's Eve parties are "a complete no-no" and said while vaccines offer light, the spectre of up to 2,000 cases a day is a "potentially very dark time" for the country.
Minister Donnelly said the Cabinet’s position remained that schools should open next week, as school was a safer place for children than the community.
The Minister citing rapidly rising hospitalisation rates as a point of concern, with numbers soaring from 234 people with Covid-19 last week to 409 on Tuesday.
Ireland did not want to be in the same position as the UK where the NHS was overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases, he said.
Minister Donnelly said that regardless of what level of restrictions the country was at, the advice remained to limit the number of contacts.
Some people diagnosed as positive in recent days had “up to 30 close contacts”. Social events were happening with too many people attending, he said.