Ministers concerned Dublin and Limerick on ‘knife-edge’ – but it will be next week before any further measures are discussed

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NPHET is due to discuss the situation in the two counties at its next meeting before making any recommendations.

ANY DECISIONS ON additional coronavirus measures for Dublin and Limerick are unlikely to be made by Cabinet until next week, with NPHET due to discuss potential changes to measures at its usual Thursday meeting before making any recommendations.

Ministers discussed the rise in cases in the two counties at today’s Cabinet meeting – where the situation was described as being on a ‘knife-edge’.

It’s likely further restrictions on household visiting numbers will be among the measures discussed when NPHET next meets. There are also concerns that pubs may not be able to reopen in Dublin and Limerick if further restrictions are imposed.

There has been increasing concern about the rise in cases in both Dublin and Limerick over recent weeks. According to the latest stats from the HPSC – of the total number of 1,672 cases nationally in the 14 days up to and including last Sunday Dublin accounted for 791 and Limerick 116.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn issued a warning to people in the two areas last night, telling reporters that NPHET was “particularly concerned” about the increase in cases.

“The next week is vital and people really need to cut down their social contacts,” Glynn said.

“They need to take all the precautions over the next week in those counties.

“They need to assume now again, unfortunately, that Covid is circulating in the community and act appropriately.

If they do not, we will see increases in cases and we will be back into places we don’t want to be over the coming weeks.

Ministers discussed the issue today, but at this stage it’s unclear whether the government is willing to contemplate any reintroduction of harsh localised measures – particularly if deaths and ICU admissions remains low.

One minister who spoke to TheJournal.ie this afternoon said Dublin and Limerick were described as being on a ‘knife-edge’ but said there was big focus at Cabinet level on the fact that there have been no deaths from Covid-19 here since mid-August.

The same minister said any return to something approaching a ‘lockdown’ situation in Dublin would not be workable due to the numbers travelling in and out of the city each day – though they added that the Kildare restrictions imposed in early August had worked to drive down numbers.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told reporters at Government Buildings that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has advised that reopening pubs on 21 September is “appropriate”. 

When asked specifically about whether localised restrictions for Dublin and Limerick are on the cards, Harris said that is “not the position as of today”.

He said the message from government is pubs can reopen on 21 September, but he added that no one can predict how the virus will evolve.

The regional lockdowns in Kildare, Offaly and Laois were “very difficult” but they “did work”, said the minister.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly reminded the Cabinet of that today, said Harris.

The public health experts believe they do have the tools to get the virus under control, he said, adding that we are a “long way from where we were back in March”.

The measures taken in the three counties did see the “desired effect”, said Harris, stating that residents in those counties were asked to stay within their county except for exceptional things “which obviously didn’t include going to the pub”.

Another senior minister told this publication that the dilemma is: how do you enforce localised restrictions in the capital.

While there are rising numbers of people testing positive, that is expected when you are testing more people than ever before, they said. The rise in case numbers is not resulting in a big hike in ICU patients, hospitalisations or deaths, it was pointed out.

While the increase in case numbers may result in spikes in those hospitalisations and deaths if the case load continues on this trajectory, government will need to decide to what extent will this justify another lockdown, they added.

They highlighted that the incidences are higher in other EU capitals than Dublin, but they are not locking down.

Health officials are currently trying to pinpoint the spread of Covid-19 in Dublin. By the time NPHET next meets on Thursday they should have considerably more data on cases in the capital, one source said.

Unlike Kildare – where public health teams could track Covid-19 closely as it moved from meat factories into households – Dublin’s cases are spread more widely.

Cases rose in Dublin in mid-August but remained stable until late last week. It is estimated that one quarter of Dublin’s recent cases were through community transmission, where there is no clear source of infection.

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It’s unclear what recommendations on further restrictions NPHET will make to Government on Thursday. However, in media appearances this week health officials are expected once again to highlight the message that behavioural changes – including mask wearing and limiting of social contacts – are the key to reducing the spread of Covid-19.

Additional restrictions on households visitor numbers are likely to be discussed at that Thursday meeting, a senior public health source said.

Another senior public health source said government may be compelled to act more quickly than next week in the event that cases continue to rise more sharply – and decisions may have to be made sooner. 

 

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