The Irish Government is to reject expert advice to introduce the highest level of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended that all 26 counties be elevated to level five restrictions for the next four weeks.
It is understood the Government will instead move the whole country to level three, which is already in place across Dublin and Donegal.
Cabinet met this afternoon to discuss the recommendations after the coalition leaders spoke to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan about proposals for tighter restrictions, which would have seen the country return to lockdown.
The recommendation from Nphet was made as the country struggles to get to grips with rising infections, with almost 1,000 cases confirmed over the weekend.
Earlier a leading health expert warned that Ireland could be without enough intensive care beds by November if the surge continues.
Nphet member Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said Ireland is on course to see between 1,500 and 2,000 cases a day by next month if stricter measures are not adopted.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, she added: “The reality is that if things keep going as they are, if you or I had a bad road traffic accident in November or needed emergency cardiac surgery, there might not be an intensive care bed for you or I.
“This is a real concern. Back in March we effectively closed the hospitals. We had issues of temporary wards and temporary morgues. We do not want to see that again.”
Dr Favier said the decision was “not made yesterday” but had been under consideration for two or three weeks.
The Government was urged to make a dramatic intervention by buying up private hospitals to increase intensive care capacity.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the move would “pay for itself” by avoiding the economic fallout of a nationwide shutdown of businesses.
He told reporters: “If we buy the hospitals, if we take in a lot of their capacity – if that’s the main issue – we’ll be able to keep the economy much more open.
“The tax revenue that will be lost will pay for it in the first place.”
Moving to higher level of restrictions without adequate supports for workers, families, services and businesses would be catastrophic. Govt failure to invest in health services has left us dangerously vulnerable. I will speak with Taoiseach later today #COVID19
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) October 5, 2020
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier warned that returning to lockdown without the necessary support in place would be “catastrophic”.
She tweeted: “Moving to higher level of restrictions without adequate supports for workers, families, services and businesses would be catastrophic.
“Govt failure to invest in health services has left us dangerously vulnerable. I will speak with Taoiseach later today #COVID19.”
The chief executive of Ireland’s health service also urged caution on the proposals.
Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid, who does not sit on Nphet, has urged the Government to also consider the impact such a move would have on “mental health and the economy”.
Face coverings can help to reduce the spread of #coronavirus. They should:✅ cover the nose & go under the chin✅ fit snugly against the side of the face ✅ be secured with ties or ear loops ✅ include at least 2 layers of fabric ✅ allow for unrestricted breathing pic.twitter.com/FPHqPQz7FZ
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) October 5, 2020
He tweeted: “There’s obvious concerns about the trends on #COVID19. But we also know the impacts of severe & regular restrictions in society on the public health, wellbeing, mental health and the economy.
“Level 5 recommendation to Government has to be considered in this context too. @HSELive.”
The latest figures show there are 150 people in Irish hospitals with coronavirus, with 21 confirmed cases in intensive care units.
Under the proposed restrictions of level three, only six visitors from one household would be allowed to visit another household.
The stricter measures include a ban on indoor social gatherings, a requirement for pubs and restaurants to only serve food outdoors, and a limit on travel in and out of the county for only work, education and essential purposes.