Coalition party leaders will meet today to give consideration to a fresh call from the State’s public health team to increase restrictions to the highest possible level as case levels of Covid-19 continue to deteriorate.
The National Public Health Emergency team (Nphet) has recommended every county moves to Level 5 of the Government’s Living with Covid-19 plan, which would mean everyone must stay within 5 kilometres of their home.
While it has been suggested that Level 5 restrictions could last six weeks, The Irish Times reported that senior Government figures had expressed concern that another lockdown could in fact last much longer, with major economic implications.
Nphet is understood to have written to the Government with warnings about what could happen if its advice is not followed. There is a high level of concern among Ministers, however, that the warnings do not take into account other health services or the economy.
Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the advice was “very serious” and had to be given proper consideration.
He said: “We’re giving this very active consideration, the advice. The situation is very serious.
“We will need further action in relation to this. When we respond it will be a comprehensive response.”
Mr Martin will meet with Coalition leaders Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.
But he has not indicated whether Government will accept the advice, which has come following a week of record coronavirus cases on the island.
He said: “We’ve moved to Level 3 already, we’ve already said to people no visitors to your home.
“We have measures in place in Ireland that many European countries, even though they have higher figures than Ireland, don’t have in place.
“That said, we take advice from Nphet very seriously. This advice will have to be given good consideration. We want to have the situation well documented, well prepared.”
Speaking on Friday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar refused to rule out a second coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Varadkar said moving to level five restrictions would be “difficult” but did not rule it out.
He told reporters: “I’m not saying that it won’t happen or that it’s being ruled out or anything like that.
“I think a second time can be difficult for people, for businesses. There will be some businesses that maybe could survive losing three or four months revenue, but not another period.
“I think a lot of people who felt the social isolation back in the spring, that would be really difficult a second time around, particularly when we are into winter and bad weather and dark nights.”
A further 1,000 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths of people with coronavirus were announced yesterday by the Department of Health, with the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, urging people to cut social contacts to “an absolute minimum”.