A Cabinet subcommittee meeting on whether to accept the National Public Health Emergency Team's (Nphet) recommendation to move to Level 5 restrictions is now underway.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, along with Ministers Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, and Michael Mcgrath, are receiving a briefing from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn about the new measures.
Professor Philip Nolan, the chair of the Irish epidemiological modelling group is also presenting to the subcommittee about the latest case data while Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, is to give a presentation about hospital capacity.
However, a move to level 5 restrictions is unlikely to be announced tonight. Introducing Level 5 restrictions would require a full meeting of the Cabinet which is unlikely to take place this evening following the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19.
The Taoiseach will meet privately with the State’s two most senior health officials before a crucial meeting of coalition leaders on Covid-19 restrictions later today.
Micheál Martin will consult with the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and the deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, in advance of the wider meeting of political leaders, scheduled for around 3pm.
Dr Holohan and Prof Philip Nolan, the chair of the Irish epidemiological modelling group, will also give a presentation on their concerns over the rapid growth of Covid-19 to political leaders in advance of this afternoon’s meeting.
The Taoiseach, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath will attend the meeting.
According to The Irish Times, the chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, will also brief the political leaders in advance.
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 reports that senior Government figures have 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 5 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 on Friday by the Department of Health, with the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, urging people to cut social contacts to “an absolute minimum”.