The Tánaiste has criticised the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET)'s recommendation to move to Level 5 of the Government’s Living with Covid-19 plan, saying that “we didn’t think it had been thought through properly" and there had been no prior consultation on the proposal.
The NPHET met on Sunday and recommended that the Government move to Level 5 of the plan, citing concerns over the deterioration in the epidemiological situation nationally including an increase in reported cases and in hospital admissions amongst other concerns.
Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live last night, Leo Varadkar said that Government had rejected the advice on a number of grounds and said the recommendation was "not in line" with the stepwise plan and that the triggers there for level 5 were "not met" in their view.
The Tánaiste also said that NPHET's assessment that hospitals were imminently facing the prospect of being overwhelmed was not shared by the CEO of the HSE.
He said there had been “no suggestion” on Thursday that NPHET were contemplating moving to Level 5 and that “what happened on Sunday night came out of the blue”.
The Tánaiste said that Ministers had met with NPHET yesterday and “heard them out” but ultimately decided not to take the advice.
Mr Varadkar explained that NPHET had been proposing a “circuit break” which involves a short, sharp, strict lockdown for three or four weeks in the hope it would reduce transmission of the virus suddenly to allow us to reopen again.
“The problem we had with the proposal that was put to us today is that we didn’t feel it had been thought through properly,” he said.
The Tánaiste said Ministers had sought assurances that four weeks would be enough to achieve what was needed and that NPHET were not “able to give us that comfort”.
Amongst the other questions Ministers had asked, the Tánaiste said, was if it was credible to keep the schools open during the four- week period.
Vardakar said that while NPHET thought it was, that they “weren’t so sure”.
“I think what happened in the last couple of days, wasn't good for anyone."
"It wasn't good for NPHET, isn't good for Government, and really wasn't good for the Irish people, many of whom were worried sick today…”
He also said that he thought that "landing something on a Sunday night" was not the right way to do things.
Asked if he has full confidence in NPHET, the Tánaiste said that he had confidence in NPHET "to dispense public health advice".