Donegal to move to Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, Taoiseach confirms

Measures in place until October 16th as wet pubs with outdoor service allowed to remain open

Government sources confirmed the move to The Irish Times and ministers are likely to approve the measure in an incorporeal Cabinet meeting this afternoon. Photograph: iStock

Government sources confirmed the move to The Irish Times and ministers are likely to approve the measure in an incorporeal Cabinet meeting this afternoon. Photograph: iStock

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that Donegal will be elevated to Level 3 of the five-level alert plan alongside Dublin from midnight on Friday after the county recorded the highest level of coronavirus cases in the State since late Spring.

The incidence of Covid-19 in the county over the past fortnight has been 148.2 in Donegal, which is higher than the rate in Dublin of around 145.

The latest daily figures show 42 new cases in Donegal of the 324 cases reported as of midnight Wednesday, following on from 30 new cases in the country 24 hours earlier. The only other country with a fortnightly rate above 100 was Co Louth. Some 167 of the newly reported cases were recorded in Dublin.

From midnight on Friday, people residing in Donegal will be asked not to travel outside the county and it will be subject to the same sanctions as Dublin with bans on indoor dining, further restrictions on the number of spectators at sporting events, bans on local matches, and strict limits on the number of people and family groups that can gather indoors and outdoors.

The numbers allowed at weddings and funerals will be reduced to 25. The restrictions will apply to October 16th.

Wet pubs

Mr Martin said that Donegal would have all the restrictions for Dublin except one, wet pubs. He said that wet pubs in Donegal would be allowed operate for outdoor serving.

“Donegal’s seven day incidence is higher than anywhere else in the country. In one Local Electoral Area, Stranorlar, the incident rate is 336 per 100,000,” he said.

He said he identified one community not to single it out to show how quickly the virus spread. The Taoiseach said a “spirit of solidarity” would curb the spread of the virus.

“To be honest we could have similar announcements for other areas in the coming week, if the numbers keep rising.

He said everybody needed to reflect on that and to determine if the virus could spread and grow. He said there was “nothing inevitable” about the spread of the virus if people took responsibility.

‘Stick with this’

Dr Glynn said that the seven day level of Covid-19 cases in Donegal was twice that of everywhere else in the country.”

He said the 14 day rate in Lifford and Stranorlar was 336 per 100,000 people; Letterkenny at 81 per 100,000 and the west of Donegal at 92 per 100,000.

“Given the rapidity of how the situation deteriorated in Donegal NPHET felt that the application of Level 3 restrictions to the county was necessary,” he said.

He added that “unfortunately the situation continues to evolve and deteriorate nationally.

“This evening I am asking people everywhere in Dublin, Donegal, Louth Wicklow, Kildare Waterford, Cork and Galway to pay particular attention to the public health advice.”

He said that a high number of cases was being recorded among younger people in particular and he appealed to them to observe Covid-19 protocols.

“Please stick with this and together we will get through this.”

He said experts were seeing high numbers of cases in the Derry area and it was not surprising that there were cases emerging in Donegal. He said that the cases were happening at family events, a phenomenon that was happening all over the country.

Dr Glynn and Mr Martin both said that socialising within family and social groups was contributing mostly to the growth and that was a trend that was being observed nationally.

“That’s why we are worried about urban centres,” said Mr Martin. He said cities like Cork and Galway have started from a low base but “incident rates are growing very fast,” said the Taoiseach.

He said it was important to have honest conversations as there was an “opportunity now to arrest the growth”.

Young cases

Dr Glynn said there had been a significant number of cases among people in their late teens and early 20s.

“It’s entirely to be expected to see people in those age groups [getting the virus],” he said.

However he said is his message to that group was it had to make choices.

“It is not that we don’t want you to socialise. But third level institutions opening next week. Club championships are being played. We have to do these things safely and do them differently. Young people have been phenomenal over the past eight months.”

He said for them, employment relationships and social life had all suffered.

“It’s very difficult going into winter to put many elements of their lives on hold. But unless they do they will continue to drive the [spread of the virus].”

In relation to close contact during celebrations after team’s won big matches, he said the emotion was understandable but choices had to be made.

Mr Martin added: “Sport in my view is vital in terms of physical and mental well being,” adding that it shone a light on what Ireland did best as a country.

“It gives tremendous joy to those who are participating. The choice is we want to continue sport throughout the winter but behaviour will dictate that and it will be more challenging as we go through the winter in different sports.

“It is essential that the protocols are adhered to.”

Various conditions

Earlier on Thursday, it was reported that the State’s public health team NPHET privately expressed concerns about the opening of pubs stating that alcohol has a “disinhibiting effect” on people.

At a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team in late August, health officials discussed how pubs and bars “pose a particular risk to the spread of Covid-19 as alcohol can have a disinhibiting effect on people and impair judgement.”

Minutes of the NPHET meeting show the team said that regardless of how “well-intentioned people are, it can impair their awareness of and ability to comply with social distancing and hygiene and respiratory advice”.

NPHET recommended last week that Dublin needed to be moved to Level 3 of the Government’s new five-level alert system for containing coronavirus and that pubs not serving food should stay shut when they reopened elsewhere in the country on Monday. The Government also agreed with NPHET’s recommendation that pubs serving food, and restaurants, while staying open in Dublin could only serve customers outside.

The recommendations were sent to Government last week amid rising numbers of coronavirus in the Republic, particularly in Dublin. A number of other counties are also at risk of being elevated to Level 3 as case numbers continue to rise in many parts of the State.

Officials at the August meeting said that internationally there had been a number of examples of outbreaks of Covid-19 in bars and that there had also been a number of outbreaks associated with pubs in Ireland including 26 cases linked to a pub in Co Kildare.

“Where pubs and bars have reopened in other countries, various conditions have been imposed including reduced opening hours, social distancing, mandatory seating, table service only, booking required, limited number per table, mandatory wearing of masks by staff, and capacity limits,” minutes of the meeting state.

The team also discussed a “heightened risk of infection associated with nightclub-type environments, which by their nature are not intended to be seated venues where patrons can maintain physical distancing.”

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn yesterday said that struggling hospitality sectors will not influence public health decisions.

He said he was aware of the impact of the ban on indoor dining in Dublin for the next three weeks but said “that cannot influence public health decisions when we are seeing the hospitalisations, admissions to critical care and the deaths we have seen in recent days.”

He was asked why Dublin was the only capital city in Europe to ban indoor dining in restaurants and bars and keep the wet pubs shut.

“Yes we have closed bars and restaurants in Dublin, but bars and restaurants are open around the country.”

He said there was too great a focus on the “small but significant element of society that is not open to the detriment of the reality that the vast majority of society is open despite a highly infectious disease”.

Evidence

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group also reiterated that international evidence was the reason why it recommended a ban on indoor dining in Dublin for three weeks.

Earlier this week the Restaurants Association of Ireland called on the Government to publish the international evidence relied on to support the decision to ban indoor dining in Dublin.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the representative body for restaurants, said that NPHET had made reference to international evidence as one of the reasons for closing indoor dining for until October 10th.

“Business owners want to see it. An industry has been closed down. This is about maintaining confidence in the strategy and where we are going to,” he said on Monday.

Mr Cummins called on the Government to “fix” the contact tracing data in order to give confidence to businesses and employees across the country.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE