Simon Harris signals imminent move to at least Level 4 Covid-19 restrictions nationwide

The Government will agree further nationwide restrictions tomorrow to stem the spread of coronavirus infections, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has twice called for the State to move the Level 5, the highest level on the State’s Living With Covid plan, although Ministers have to date resisted such a move.

Most counties are currently on Level 3, with three of the Border counties – Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan – on Level 4.

But signalling a likely move to at least Level 4 restrictions, Mr Harris said the Level 3 measure “has not worked in terms of getting the virus to where it needs to get to”, and the trajectory of the virus is concerning health officials.

“The Government will act tomorrow. The action will be decisive and the action will be right across the country – it will be nationwide action,” he told RTÉ’s The Week In Politics.

“It is 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.”

Mr Harris said senior Government Ministers heard briefings on Saturday from the Nphet and the HSE on Saturday for four to five hours on the health concerns but they also heard about the effect of the lockdown earlier this year on society, such as a spike in domestic violence.

“This is different to March and April. We are asking people to take more restrictions for a second time, and we are having to balance that with our honest view as to what people can sustain and bear, but we will act tomorrow,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of keeping some businesses open, Mr Harris said that the Government could not “prolong the inevitable” or do things “in a piecemeal fashion.”

“If we are going to try to get back on top of this virus, we are going to have to take decisive action tomorrow and what Government is trying to do is to find that landing spot as to what is enough to get us to where we want to as well as recognising lots of different demands,” he said.

A meeting of Government leaders broke up last night without any decision on the level of restrictions to be put in place in the country.

There is no Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday, with Cabinet to meet on Monday to discuss the next steps.

Senior sources said that on Saturday six of the most senior politicians in the State examined the options available to the Government and the implications of the decisions to be taken, amid concerns over the rate of growth of the coronavirus in the Republic.

The meeting was preceded by a private consultation between the State’s top two public health doctors and the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. There were briefings provided by senior members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and HSE chief executive Paul Reid.