Ireland could be without enough intensive care beds by November if the current coronavirus surge continues, a leading health expert has warned.
The three coalition leaders are to meet chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan later to discuss proposals to move the country to Level 5 of coronavirus restrictions, which would effectively return the country to lockdown.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has made the stark recommendation as the country struggles to get to grips with rising infections, with almost 1,000 cases confirmed over the weekend.
The Cabinet will ultimately decide whether to act on the advice, but ministers are said to have been shocked at the proposal, and there are concerns about the potential social and economic fallout.
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.
NPHET has proposed the country moves to Level 5 restrictions for four weeks.
The Government were urged to make a dramatic intervention by buying up private hospitals to increase ICU capacity and avoid a second lockdown.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the move would “pay for itself” by avoiding the economic fallout of a nationwide shutdown on 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.”
Cabinet is expected to meet today to discuss the proposals. If it agrees to the recommendation this would represent a return to the strictest possible public health measures, similar to those seen in April and May.
People would be asked to stay within 5km (three miles) of their homes, while all non-essential retail outlets would close.
However, in a Level-5 scenario, schools and creches would remain open.
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 warned that returning to lockdown without the necessary supports 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 has also urged caution on the proposals.
Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid, who does not sit on NPHET, has urged Government to also consider the impact such a move would have on “mental health and the economy”.
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”.
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
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, people would be urged to stay at home and not meet with others from outside their own household.
People will be asked to work from home where possible, while bars and restaurants will be limited to takeaway services only.
Funerals will be limited to just 10 attendees, while only six will be permitted at weddings.
No organised sport will be allowed and people will only be able to exercise only within 5km (three miles) of their homes.