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Ireland faces resistance to "nuclear" COVID-19 lockdown recommendation

Mon, 5th Oct 2020 09:59

DUBLIN, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Ireland's government faced
political and business resistance on Monday to a surprise
recommendation by health chiefs for Europe's first major second
wave national lockdown to prevent hospitals from being
overwhelmed as coronavirus cases rise.

The National Public Health Emergency Team called for a leap
to the highest level of COVID-19 restrictions, Level 5, late on
Sunday, just three days after telling government the current
Level 2 status for most of the country was appropriate.

While Ireland reported the highest number of daily cases
since late April on Saturday, its 14-day cumulative case total
of 104.6 per 100,000 people is only the 14th-highest infection
rate out of 31 European countries monitored by the European
Centre for Disease Control.

The leaders of the three governing coalition partners will
meet Ireland's chief medical officer on Monday before cabinet
considers the advice.

"If we're brutally honest, as a people we could better
adhere to existing restrictions. Let's collectively put that
right rather than going nuclear just yet," Barry Cowen, a member
of parliament from Prime Minister Micheal Martin's Fianna Fail
party said on Twitter.

One of the health officials that provided the advice said
Ireland could run out of intensive care beds by the start of
November if the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases continued.

"It's more than fear, it's the reality. If we keep going the
way were are, if you or I had a bad road traffic accident in
November or needed emergency cardiac surgery, there may not be
an intensive care bed," Mary Favier, a general practitioner and
member of the emergency team, told national broadcaster RTE.

One minister said a decision needed to be made on Monday.

"Doubt many of us got a night's sleep. So many worries and
questions on people's minds. Today needs to bring clarity," said
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, the health minister
during one of Europe's strictest lockdowns earlier this year.

Under Level 5, people would be asked to stay at home, except
to exercise within 5 km, with only essential retailers allowed
to stay open.

Ireland re-opened its economy at a slower pace than most of
Europe from May and while its large multinational sector has
shielded it from the worst of the economic hit, the unemployment
rate is stuck just below 15% even as the government props up
wages in many parts of the economy.

"This is crazy. It is just going to cause decimation if we
shut down at this time," Duncan Graham, head of Retail
Excellence, the sector's main lobby group, told RTE.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin;
Editing by Alison Williams)

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