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'We're taking action early': Varadkar says EU capitals have not imposed the kind of restrictions Dublin is facing

Dublin is expected to be placed on Level Three before the weekend.

OTHER EUROPEAN CITIES have a virus incidence rate double than that in Ireland’s capital and have not imposed the kind of restrictions under consideration for Dublin, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, he said the situation with the virus is “worrying” particularly in Dublin, with the incidence rate increasing significantly in recent days.

Dublin’s 14-day incidence rate is now over 104 per 100,000. Positive hospital cases now stand at 73 and there are 14 people in ICU who are confirmed cases.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that the increase in hospitalisations is “relatively small”. 

He pointed out that many other EU capitals with much higher incidence rates to Dublin have not moved to impose restrictions.

“Regarding Dublin, however, it is important to compare it to other cities around Europe. Brussels has an incidence rate double that of Dublin, Amsterdam has a positivity rate much higher than Dublin’s, and it is also much higher in Madrid, Prague, Paris and many other places.

“If we choose, therefore, to act regarding the situation in Dublin in the coming days, far from being slow to act, as some would argue, we will be one of the first movers in Europe in taking action early, ahead of cities and city regions in Europe that have not yet imposed the kind of restrictions that we may need to impose in Dublin.  

“We will, therefore, be first movers and quick actors, rather than what others would suggest.”

Overall, Ireland currently has a 14-day incidence rate of 54.7 per 100,000.

A country at a similar level is Denmark, which is slightly higher with just over 58. 

In that country – despite initial border closures – by summer, workpaces were open, pubs and restaurants opened their doors and families were allowed to travel abroad on holidays.

In fact, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has been in contact with his Danish counterpart about how they are dealing with the pandemic.

Like Ireland it has seen a rise in cases, which has resulted in new measures being imposed only recently. 

People have been told to pick about five or ten people to see regularly in the autumn. 

New restrictions have been introduced in the capital Copenhagen and its suburbs, where bars and restaurants must close their doors at 10pm – but they can still remain open.

The number of spectators allowed at football matches has also been reduced to 500.

In the rest of Denmark, bars and restaurants can stay open until 2am. The latest restrictions are in place until 1 October.

However, in contrast, other countries that have a much lower incidence rate, such as Italy and Germany, have been largely open for business since June, with pubs, restaurants, schools back open with no drastic restrictions.

Belgium, where the 14 day incidence rate stands at over 80 per 100,000, far higher than Dublin, is also fully open.

Masks must be worn outside, except when eating and exercising, cinemas are open, and bars can remain open until 1am, but no nightclubs are open. 

Acting too early

Varadkar’s comments earlier today came ahead of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendation for Dublin to move to Level Three.

A Cabinet sub-committee will consider the recommendations tomorrow, before the full Cabinet makes a call on whether to push the capital into Level Three. 

While some argue that the government should have taken action earlier, and imposed further restrictions on Dublin when NPHET raised concerns last week, it is understood that some Cabinet ministers believe that putting Dublin into Level Three would again mean the city would be an outlier in terms of other EU capitals.

They highlighted that it was always going to be the case that as we do more tests, the cases will increase. It is important to remember that the daily cases do not indicate the number of people that are necessarily ill, adding the key metric is the impact on hospital capacity.

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However, other government sources state that the medical experts here and the virus do not pay heed to what is being done in countries elsewhere, and are making recommendations specifically for Dublin.

One minister highlighted that many of the European countries that have similar or even lower cases than Ireland remained open over the last few months, with pubs, restaurants and even nightclubs remaining open.

A number of economic experts as well as some Dublin politicians have also raised concerns about the Irish government’s response to the rising numbers.

Chief economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs Dan O’Brien has also expressed concern about the disparity between Ireland’s actions and our European neighbours.

He told the Today with Claire Byrne on RTE Radio One that the increase in new Covid cases in Ireland is similar to our peers.

While cases are rising, they are not going up in the way they were in March and April, he said adding that “we are not out of line with other countries”. 

O’Brien said more focus and resources should be going into ICU capacity and increasing healthcare capacity.

The provision of critical-care beds in Ireland (including beds in private hospitals) is only six beds per 100,000 population compared with the European average of 11.5, according to the Irish National Audit Report 2018.

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan told the same radio programme that the government needs to take into account other factors other than purely public health matters.

He said the country has managed to suppress the virus – stating that in one  day in April there were 155 people in ICU, while today there are 14.

The second phase is not the same as the first, he said. 

O’Callaghan said he has real concerns about the impact these restrictions will have on young people and children, as well as the mental health and the anxiety levels of the country as a whole. 

He said he is worried that we will “drive ourselves mad if we keep doing this for five or six months”.

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