Covid crackdown | 

Harris: Government ‘will take decisive and nationwide action’ over virus surge

The higher education minister was speaking after health officials briefed political leaders in Dublin about their concerns.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the Government will take decisive action over the rising number of coronavirus cases (Niall Carson/PA)

By Rebecca Black, PA

The Government will take “decisive and nationwide” action on Monday over the rising number of coronavirus cases, a minister has said.

It comes after political leaders received briefings from health officials in Dublin on Saturday about their concerns at the recent rapid spread of the virus.

Amid increasing speculation, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris confirmed on Sunday that the Government will take action.

A woman walks past a cafe in Co Cavan, one of the counties on Level 4 of the response to coronavirus framework (Brian Lawless/PA)

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has recommended moving to Level 5 of the Covid-19 restrictions framework for six weeks.

Currently Counties Dublin, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are at Level 4, while the rest of the country is at Level 3.

The Cabinet is to meet on Monday.

Mr Harris said Government will take “decisive” action which will apply across the country, adding that action by county has not worked.

“It’s a really anxious time for people and I suppose I want people to know a few things this afternoon,” he told RTE.

“Firstly, I want them to know that the Government will act tomorrow, the action will be decisive and the action will be right across the country, it’ll be nationwide action.

Level 3 has not worked in terms of getting the virus to where it needs to get to

Simon Harris

“It’s clear now that the virus is at such a level within all our communities, the county-by-county approach will not be sufficient.

“So tomorrow we will have to bring in more restrictions.

“Level 3 has not worked in terms of getting the virus to where it needs to get to.”

Level 5 – the highest stage – would see people being asked to stay within 5km of their homes, as well as bars and restaurants offering only takeaway service.

In a statement following the meetings on Saturday, the Government said ministers had been briefed on the latest data relating to Covid-19, including an analysis of the virus in each region, hospital capacity and an update on the Test and Trace system.

Presentations were also given on the economic, employment and society-wide implications of moving to more severe restrictions.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Other significant issues were also discussed, including the mental health and domestic violence.

Appearing to hint that schools may not be closed in the Republic, the statement added that the health team had advised ministers that children are safer in schools and that transmission rates there are low.

Mr Harris said that, while he had not been at Saturday’s meetings, he had been briefed on what was said by Tanaiste Leo Varadkar.

“They heard a very wide range of presentations from NPHET, from Paul Reid, the head of the HSE, but also presentations around what happened during the last lockdown, and some worrying statistics about domestic violence reports being up by a third,” he said.

“So what we’re trying to do now – this is different from March and April – we’re asking people to take more restrictions for a second time, and we’re having to balance that with our honest view of what people can sustain and bear. But we will act tomorrow.

“We have to have a common understanding as to what success looks like. If we’re asking people to come on board for a difficult few weeks, we have to know where we’re all trying to get to, and a common understanding of what that success looks like.”

A sign in the window of a clothes shop in Co Cavan (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Sunday, a further 1,283 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), bringing the national total to 49,962.

Three more deaths with the virus were recorded, taking the toll to 1,852.

Of the latest cases, 408 were in Dublin, 156 in Cork, 88 in Kildare, 80 in Meath, 55 in Limerick and the remaining 496 cases were spread across 21 counties.

As of 2pm on Saturday, 277 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, of which 33 were in intensive care.

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