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.
Dr Holohan warned there has been a “significant and concerning deterioration” in the epidemiological situation nationally.
He said on Monday: “It is vital that we do everything in our power now to arrest the current trajectory nationally and very substantially suppress the virus back down to a low level of transmission in advance of the winter months.
“Do not become distracted from the core public health messages: wash hands regularly, keep your distance, wear face coverings where appropriate, avoid crowded environments, cut your social contacts down to minimum levels, know the symptoms, and isolate yourself and contact your GP immediately if you experience them.”
Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, said: “Our core priorities have to be protected.
“We must work together to keep our non-Covid health services open, keep our children in education and protect the lives of the most vulnerable to this disease.
“Solidarity is now more important than ever as we work to once again suppress this virus in our communities.”
Minister of State Josepha Madigan said that if Level 3 does not work to curb the spread of the virus, the country will move to Level 5.
She told RTE: “If they do make the decision to go to Level 3 and we don’t go to Level 5, they will not make that decision lightly. I can also pretty confidently say that if Level 3 does not work nationwide then we will be going to Level 5. I think that’s pretty clear.
“It is a very big decision that they would make to in any way deviate from what Nphet is saying, but that’s not to say that it would be the wrong decision, because there other factors that they have to consider.
“No matter what happens, I think this is a real warning to the Irish people. It’s a wake up call to all of us that we have to go back to basics. And that means washing our hands and wearing a mask and keeping our distance, and welcoming one household. And making sure that we enforce things.”
Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane claimed the public has been left “very confused” by the Government’s position.
“The Government has the responsibility to explain its decisions, as Nphet has an obligation to explain theirs,” he added.
“We want to hear from the Government, we want to be briefed, but we also want to hear from the Government that they once and for all will deal with the big issues they need to deal with – investment in testing and tracing and investment in acute hospitals and stop putting us in a situation where we have to have increased restrictions because we are not getting ahead of the virus in a way we should.”
On Monday an additional 518 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed by the Department of Health.
There were no further deaths.
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.”
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.