Ministers and officials will meet today to finalise the Government’s plan on managing the Covid-19 pandemic amid warnings from public health experts that restrictions will be necessary to control high rates of infection in Dublin.
Preparation of the medium-term Living with Covid strategy continued over the weekend. Senior sources said last night there would be further amendments to the plan before it is finalised by the Covid-19 subcommittee and sent on to the Cabinet for approval and publication tomorrow.
The plan will set a five-stage framework, with level one the most relaxed environment and level five the most restricted, akin to the national lockdown introduced earlier this year. It will then set out what each level will mean for a variety of sectors.
It is expected that the Government will say that level two is appropriate for conditions at present, though there is some debate among Ministers as to whether Dublin should be elevated to level three. Several sources said new restrictions for Dublin could come this week, though no decision has yet been reached.
The capital has seen a sharp increase in cases in the past fortnight. Last night it was announced that there were 255 new cases nationally, with 156 of these in Dublin.
However, there is reluctance in Government to tighten the restrictions in the county given the large proportion of the population who would be affected and Dublin’s importance to the economy.
Public health experts are understood to have advised that restrictions in Dublin be tightened, pointing to the rising infection rates in two areas – the southeast and northwest – rising above 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. Overall, Dublin has 79.3 cases per 100,000 people.
Government sources said that even at level one of the plan, there would be no return to life as normal.
“Even in the best-case scenario, we will still be living our lives in a different way,” said one person familiar with the plan. “Large events are not coming back. Big weddings are not coming back.”
It is understood that some expansion of the numbers allowed to attend sporting events is expected, but there will be no return to large crowds at games. Strict limits on indoor and outdoor events will remain.
The Government is also expected to update the green list of countries from where visitors will not be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival, pending the adoption of a new EU colour-coded system.
This creates a list of “green” countries where infection rates are fewer than 25 cases per 100,000, “orange” where they are fewer than 50 per 100,000 and “red” where they are more than 50.
In the period until the proposed EU “traffic light” system is approved next month, the Government may use the same criteria to add countries such as Germany, Poland and Iceland to the State’s green list.
Meanwhile, the HSE’s winter plan for this winter is expected to provide additional beds, staff and facilities so that hospitals can continue to operate as much as possible during the pandemic. Officials are considering the addition of some 1,000 acute hospital and sub-acute hospital beds to the system.
The impact of an increase of about 20 million home support hours, to assist people to remain in their own homes or to facilitate people to return to their own homes after hospital care, is also being examined.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will today announce a €1,000 grant scheme for small businesses affected by Covid-19 during a visit to Co Kildare. The scheme is expected to benefit up to 2,000 small firms with fewer than 10 employees.