A previously unscheduled Cabinet meeting will take place this afternoon to discuss returning the country to a full Level 5 lockdown after 1,546 Covid-19 cases were recorded yesterday, the highest-ever daily figure in the Republic of Ireland.
This surpassed the figure of 1,296 which was recorded on St Stephen’s Day.
Today’s meeting was scheduled following the ‘exponential’ growth in cases while the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is at the highest level it has been since May and GPs have warned of a 65 per cent increase in referrals for Covid tests.
These factors will see the Government bring back a full ‘March-style’ Level 5 lockdown.
This would see non-essential retail close while people would be restricted to travelling within five kilometres of their homes.
The previous rule which allowed two households to gather in a private home until December 31st will also be rescinded, this measure is designed to prevent New Year’s Eve parties.
Ministers expect the number of Covid-19 cases to rise further in the coming days as we see the effect of socialising over the Christmas period.
One Minister, speaking on the basis of anonymity, told The Irish Times: “This is perhaps the most dangerous moment for the country since Covid-19 began.”
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the country is in a “dark and worrying place” as Covid numbers continue to rise.
He added that he would “not be surprised” if there were more than 2,000 cases a day by New Year’s Day.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expressed concern at the increase in Covid patients in Irish hospitals, adding that it was crucial to stop the health service becoming overwhelmed like the NHS in England.
Along with the Cabinet meeting, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet this morning while the HSE is set to hold a press conference.
The roll-out of the first batch of Pfizer vaccines is continuing at hospitals across Dublin, Cork and Galway.
However, public health doctors have warned that it will still be some time before the positive impact of the vaccine will be seen in terms of eased restrictions.
“The start of our Covid-19 vaccination programme is a very significant positive milestone. But vaccines will not positively impact on the profile of this disease in Ireland in the coming weeks,” deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn tweeted.
“Today we reported the highest number of daily cases (1,546) since the start of this pandemic. Tonight, there are more people in hospital with Covid-19 (411) than at any point since last May and admissions are rising very quickly,” he added.
Dr Glynn urged the public to stay at home, to isolate with any concerning symptoms and to follow all guidance if identified as a close contact.