Ireland faces a return to a strict nationwide lockdown after the country’s health chiefs recommended a dramatic tightening of restrictions in response to surging coronavirus cases.
The Irish chief medical officer and National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) called for the nation to enter Level 5 - the most severe in the government's coronavirus plan - after recording its highest number of daily cases since late April on Saturday.
Under a Level 5, the public would be asked to stay within three miles of their homes. Non-essential shops would close, but schools would remain open. One proposal is the country would remain under the strict lockdown measures for a period of four weeks.
The leaders of Ireland’s three coalition parties are to meet with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holahan on Monday to discuss the next steps.
Most of Ireland is currently at Level 2, while Dublin and Donegal are on Level 3.
The call for enhanced restrictions was in part prompted by a fear that the country is on course to see up to 2,000 cases a day by November, with intensive care units at risk of being overstretched if stricter measures are not adopted.
Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: “The reality is that if things keep going as they are, if you or I had a bad road traffic accident in November or needed emergency cardiac surgery, there might not be an intensive care bed.”
But while Dr Holahan and the NPHET have recommended ramping up restrictions, concerns have also been raised by other health officials about the wider impact of a new national lockdown.
The chief executive of Ireland's health service, Paul Reid, said the impact on mental health and the economy should not be overlooked.
“There's obvious concerns about the trends on Covid-19. But we also know the impacts of severe & regular restrictions in society on the public health, wellbeing, mental health and the economy,” he tweeted.
”Level 5 recommendation to government has to be considered in this context too.“
And one unnamed minister told The Irish Times: “My worry is people won’t accept it. People have just had it. They find these restrictions very difficult; not to have some limited form of human contact.”
Ireland’s 14-day cumulative case total stands at 104.6 per 100,000 people, the 14th highest infection rate out of 31 European countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control.
Tighter restrictions are being introduced in many parts of Europe amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19, but no country has yet entered a second full national lockdown.
Paris, for example, will see all of its bars shut from 6 October for two weeks.
In the Spanish capital, Madrid, authorities have introduced renewed curbs on people leaving their local area for anything other than work, school or medical care.
And across Italy, nightclubs have been closed and face masks must be worn from 6pm to 6am in public spaces.
Additional reporting by agencies.
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