Public health experts are today expected to recommend new restrictions for Dublin to limit the spread of coronavirus, as fears grow that infections are heading out of control.
Last night, public health experts expressed a high degree of alarm at the current rate of infection, with one saying he was “more concerned than at any point in time since late April”.
The National Public Health Expert Team (NPHET) will meet today to decide its advice to Government, which is likely to be conveyed this evening.
Ministers and senior officials expect that a significant tightening of restrictions in the capital will be recommended, with Dublin likely to move at midnight tomorrow from Level Two to Level Three on the Government’s five-level structure for managing the pandemic that was unveiled on Tuesday.
It is understood the Government’s willingness to adopt new restrictions has been signalled to the public health experts.
The Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 – chaired by Taoiseach Micheál Martin – is scheduled to meet tomorrow morning, after which any new restrictions will be put to a meeting of the full Cabinet, most likely conducted remotely, for approval.
While there are continuing concerns in Government at the economic impact of further restrictions, it is understood the three party leaders in the Coalition are convinced of the need to take measures to control the spread of the virus in Dublin, where infections have grown rapidly in recent days.
“If the numbers continue as they have been, this is only going one way,” said a Government source.
Some senior figures in Government were highly critical of the failure to take heed of NPHET’s advice last week and restrict travel from Dublin. A letter from acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn to the Government last Thursday warning that Dublin was a “disease reservoir” was only published yesterday.
There were also recriminations in Government yesterday following the launch of the Living with Covid roadmap, which was beset by confusion.
Last night, NPHET announced that there have been 254 more cases – of which 136 are in Dublin – and three further deaths confirmed.
At a press briefing in the Department of Health last night, the chair of NPHET’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, Prof Philip Nolan, said: “I am more concerned than at any point in time since late April.”
Prof Nolan said the figures were of “considerable concern”. He said the reproduction number was 1.3-1.7 nationally and case numbers are likely to double every 10 to 14 days if people do not work to break chains of transmission.
“If we do not interrupt transmission now, bring the R-number back to below one, modelling shows that we could have 500-1,000 cases per day by October 16th, 50-60 per cent of which would be in Dublin.”
However, he said the incidences were growing at broadly the same rate across the whole country.
Dr Glynn told the briefing the situation has deteriorated nationally over the past week. “Along with Dublin we have seen particularly concerning trends in Louth, Waterford and Donegal. It is now absolutely essential that people action public health advice and act as if they or those close to them are potentially infectious.”
Of the cases notified yesterday, 115 are men and133 are women, while 65 per cent are under 45 years of age.
NPHET said 61 per cent are confirmed to be associated with outbreaks or are close contacts of a confirmed case while 24 cases have been identified as community transmission.