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Government informed of possibility of level 4 Covid restrictions before meeting

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he and Chief Medical Officer discussed moving to level 4 measures.

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dail he discussed the potential of moving to level 4 Covid-19 restrictions with the CMO on Sunday morning (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dail he discussed the potential of moving to level 4 Covid-19 restrictions with the CMO on Sunday morning (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dail he discussed the potential of moving to level 4 Covid-19 restrictions with the CMO on Sunday morning (Julien Behal/PA)

The Health Minister and the chief medical officer discussed the possibility of moving to stricter Covid-19 restrictions before the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meeting on Sunday.

Stephen Donnelly told the Dail he spoke with Dr Tony Holohan on Sunday morning about the possibility of moving to level four restrictions.

Mr Donnelly made a statement to the Dail on Thursday evening to clarify his communications with the chief medical officer.

It comes amid growing confusion over what the Government was told by Nphet last weekend, and how that advice was subsequently leaked.

The Government moved the entire country to level 3 restrictions from midnight on Tuesday for a period of three weeks.

Mr Donnelly said Dr Holohan informed him by text on Saturday lunchtime that a meeting of Nphet had been called for the following day and that he let the Taoiseach know.

“Early Sunday morning I texted the CMO requesting a call before Nphet and on the back of that the chief medical officer and I spoke,” he added.

“We discussed the current situation and the possibility of moving to level four. I conveyed my belief that it was important Nphet adhere to the parameters set out in the framework for each level.

“I contacted the Taoiseach afterwards. Around 7pm I took part in a video call with the chief medical officer, the deputy chief medical officer and the Secretary General. That is when I was informed of Nphet’s recommendation to move to level five.”

He added that he updated the Taoiseach after the video call.

The minister said the Government did not move to level five restrictions as advised by Nphet because they did not believe that the criteria for moving to the highest level of restrictions under the Government’s road-map had been met.

The Fianna Fail TD said that the Government would like to see more detail on options for the end of a four-week period at level five.

He added that the HSE had confirmed that it has sufficient capacity to manage current Covid-19 cases and that “it doesn’t see any immediate difficulties in this respect”.

Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane asked Mr Donnelly whether he told the chief medical officer that a move to level four would be a difficulty for Government.

Mr Donnelly said: “Did I try to influence the recommendations coming out of Nphet? Of course I didn’t. I would never have done such a thing.”

Labour’s Duncan Smith described what happened over the weekend as an “absolute calamity” and that it would have “massive implications” for public confidence in the Government and Nphet.

He described Tony Holohan as a “Titan of this pandemic who has more trust from the public than anyone in this chamber present or absent put together”.

Mr Donnelly said he did not know who leaked the letter and that the information coming out about a recommendation to level five “scared a lot of people”.

“I don’t know who leaked a letter, I don’t know who it will have been leaked to,” he stated.

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall asked Mr Donnelly whether he or anyone associated with him leaked the Nphet letter.

Mr Donnelly replied neither he nor anyone who works for him leaked the letter.

Rise TD Paul Murphy said the Government had made a “grave mistake” by not following the public health officials advice, adding that he believed a move to level five would still happen and it would end up being for longer.

But Mr Donnelly said he did not believe a move to level five was inevitable.

Dr Holohan said on Wednesday that he had shared his concerns and those of other Nphet members with Mr Donnelly.

“I wouldn’t pre-empt a conversation but I was very clear about the level of concern that I had and have, and if anything the level of concern I had then is less than the level of concern I have now,” Dr Holohan added.

The Tanaiste and some Government ministers claim they were not made aware of the advice until Sunday evening.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the recommendation from Nphet to move to Level five “hadn’t been thought through and there hadn’t been prior consultation”.

Mr Varadkar told the Dail earlier on Thursday that nobody in Government had any indication, “not even an inkling”, that a Level five move was being considered until Sunday night.

Earlier, the Taoiseach insisted he retained confidence in the Health Minister.

Micheal Martin said: “I do, of course, have confidence in the Health Minister.”

He also said he did not know who leaked the Nphet recommendation to move to level five restrictions, but that he was “certainly sure that Stephen Donnelly didn’t leak it”.

Members of Nphet met on Thursday to discuss the track of Covid-19 across the country.

The Department of Health was notified of a further 506 cases of Covid-19 and one further death linked to the virus.

Mr Donnelly said the R number for the country now stands at 1.2.

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