Coronavirus: Public health experts considered idea of moving Dublin to Level 4
NPHET members felt Government would not support more dramatic restrictions for city
The idea of moving Dublin to Level 4 of the five-level plan to tackle the rise of Covid-19 cases in the capital was backed by some members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) at their meeting this week.
But some members were concerned Government would not agree to such a dramatic move, which was supported by a minority of the team on Thursday, and instead recommended a move to Level 3 with added restrictions, as announced on Friday.
Concerns were privately expressed that recommending a higher level of restrictions could cause discord between NPHET and the Government, leading to mixed messages and undermining public health efforts to fight the virus.
On Saturday, Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, rejected any suggestion, however, that the team would modify its advise based on the likely Government response.
Members of the group believe they may have to recommend an escalation to Level 4 in Dublin in two to three weeks, should infections continue to increase – a move that would see the closure of all but essential retail outlets with only essential workers allowed to travel to workplaces.
There was also a discussion by NPHET that the whole country should be moved to Level 3 along with Dublin, but concerns were expressed that this would dilute the message requiring targeted public actions in the capital.
If infection rates continue to grow significantly, the group may recommend a nationwide move to Level 3 next week, it is understood.
Last night, Government announced the toughest restrictions since the lockdown earlier this year, infuriating restaurant and bar owners in Dublin, many of whom say they are facing immediate closure.
In a televised address from Government Buildings, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that Dublin is at a “very dangerous place” and, without action, could quickly return to the worst days of the crisis.
Mr Martin said he knew the havoc the virus was causing to the economy, to sports, to arts and culture.
“But I also know this, my first and most important obligation, and that of Government, is to protect you. This virus kills. It kills more old people than young, but it kills young people too,” he said.
Outlining some of the new restrictions that would impact on the capital, Mr Martin said visitors from only one other household will be allowed into homes. Sports training will be allowed to take place, but no matches, while weddings and funerals will be confined to 25 people.
“Many will be upset by what we have to do but please be assured these restrictions are recommended by our leading medical experts,” he said.
People have been asked not to travel outside or into Dublin city and county. Asked about enforcement, Mr Martin said there would be an increased presence of gardaí on the roads but it would be left to people to be responsible in terms of adhering to the guidance not to travel into or out of Dublin.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn warned that if action was not taken, the State could be facing 1,000 cases a day next month.
Dr Glynn said 1,600 people had contracted Covid-19 in the past two weeks, there had been 17 deaths and the reproduction number was now between 1.3 and 1.7.
“If we do not stop the transmissions now, we are afraid we could have 1,000 cases a day by the middle of October,” he said.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said many people do not want to believe it, but the Covid-19 situation was “getting serious again”.
“It’s not all bad,” Mr Varadkar said. “There is hope. If we compare ourselves to many of our neighbours we are doing relatively well,” adding that Dublin was doing better than Belfast, Amsterdam or Paris.
The Government announced an immediate €30 million in supports for businesses affected, but hospitality industry groups said that would not be sufficient to tackle the crisis its members were experiencing.
The Restaurants Association said more than 50,000 jobs would be lost this weekend across the sector. The Irish Hotels Federation said 100,000 jobs had been lost in the tourism sector and a further 100,000 were at “immediate risk”. The assistance announced “fall far short of what is required”, the group said.
NPHET had considered measures that would allow indoor dining to continue in Dublin, including limiting numbers at tables, reduced capacity and earlier closing times.
However, in a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in advance of Friday’s Government announcement, Dr Glynn said NPHET moved instead to recommend the ban on indoor dining “given the severity of the epidemiological situation in Dublin”.
Dr Glynn said NPHET’s view was “the profile of the disease in Dublin is at an extremely critical juncture,” and the window of opportunity to suppress the virus “without significant additional measures is no longer available.”
“Once again, the NPHET fully appreciates that this most recent advice will be disappointing, concerning and challenging for the people of Dublin in particular,” he wrote.
NPHET announced on Friday there were 253 more cases of coronavirus, of which 116 are in Dublin, and three further deaths.
Of the 253 cases, 143 are men and 108 are women while 71 per cent are under 45 years of age. Forty-five per cent are confirmed to be associated with outbreaks or are close contacts of a confirmed case.