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Government urged to clarify when it knew of CMO’s concern at rising Covid cases

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said there were ‘clear signals’ that the cases were getting serious.

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Long tailbacks at a Garda checkpoint, which are aimed at encouraging people to adhere to health guidelines (Brian Lawless/PA)

Long tailbacks at a Garda checkpoint, which are aimed at encouraging people to adhere to health guidelines (Brian Lawless/PA)

Long tailbacks at a Garda checkpoint, which are aimed at encouraging people to adhere to health guidelines (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Minister for Health was made aware of the chief medical officer’s level of concern about the spread of Covid-19 before the meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team last weekend, it has emerged.

Dr Tony Holohan spoke to Stephen Donnelly by phone three times on Saturday and Sunday, during which he raised concerns about the number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

The Government was made aware of the unscheduled meeting of Nphet on Sunday.

However, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the recommendation from Nphet to move to Level 5 “hadn’t been thought through and there hadn’t been prior consultation”.

He added on Wednesday: “I was really unhappy, really unhappy about what happened on Sunday night, and the anxiety and fear that it caused for hundreds of thousands of people, and I gave voice to that anger and gave voice to that frustration.”

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said there were “clear signals” that the cases were getting serious.

Opposition parties have called for the Government to clarify what it became aware of over the weekend.

Ms Shortall told RTE Morning Ireland that, contrary to what the Government said, the Minister for Health and Taoiseach Micheal Martin were kept informed throughout the weekend.

“The CMO returned to work two days early and contacted the minister on Saturday, and informed him of what he found in relation to the growing evidence and to how serious the situation was,” Ms Shortall said.

“The CMO contacted the minister on Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening after the (Nphet) meeting.

“It’s hard to understand how all of those very clear signals are not taken.

“It was clear the situation was grave and clearly there was a need for a response from the Government.

“For some reason that (Nphet) letter was leaked and that was extremely damaging and drove a wedge between Nphet and Government.

“Then the Tanaiste went on the Claire Byrne Show to deliberately undermine the CMO. Serious time has been lost.

“The focus has been taken away from where it should be, which is tackling the virus.

“The Government has shown itself to be pretty incompetent over recent days and failed to respond to the growing situation.”

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

Dr Holohan also said that the health minister did not set out parameters in which they could conduct their meeting.

We had our meeting and Government took a different view. We are not ignoring the advice, but we are looking at other issuesGreen party leader Eamon Ryan

“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.

Green party leader Eamon Ryan said on Thursday that the Government was not made aware of Nphet’s advice to move to Level 5 until Sunday evening.

“We had our meeting and Government took a different view. We are not ignoring the advice, but we are looking at other issues,” he added.

“We decided to move to Level 3 and we hope that the numbers will stabilise.”

He said that Government is “all on the same team”, despite what the Tanaiste said on Monday.

Mr Ryan also said that Level 3 restrictions in Donegal are not working, but added that data should be assessed on a seven-day and 14-day basis.

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

The latest figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show that the national average rate of Covid-19 cases is 124.4 cases per 100,000 population.

Donegal remains the highest with 312.2 positive cases per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, gardai have made a number of changes to their checkpoints.

From 7am on Thursday, alterations have been introduced to checkpoints on the N7 at Junction 6 and M2  at Junction 2.

“A new traffic layout has been introduced at these checkpoints which provides a dedicated HGV-only lane to minimise delay or disruption to business distribution,” a garda spokesman said.

“Signage will be in place prior to reaching the checkpoints and the right hand lane (lane 3) will be available for HGVs only.

“We would ask all motorists to follow the signage and that HGV drivers reduce their speed as they approach the Garda checkpoints as they still may be required to stop.”

Online Editors