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NPHET recommendation to enter Level 5 'came out of the blue', Tánaiste says

Leo Varadkar said the government and NPHET “have to get back on the same page”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaking on RTÉ tonight.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaking on RTÉ tonight.
Image: RTÉ

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) gave “no suggestion” last Thursday that it would recommend the country enter into Level 5 restrictions.

Government this evening approved the entire country entering into Level 3 restrictions for a period of three weeks starting from midnight on Tuesday. 

This followed a recommendation from NPHET last night to place the entire country under Level 5 restrictions. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live tonight, Leo Varadkar said this recommendation “hadn’t been thought through and was made without prior consultation”. 

“What happened on Sunday night came out of the blue,” Varadkar said. 

“Last Thursday, when we received our advice from NPHET, there all in writing, there was no suggestion whatsoever that they were contemplating suggesting that we move to Level 5.”

He said further that the recommendation was “not crazy, but not thought through”. 

“Government and NPHET have to get back on the same page,” he said, adding that people “won’t see a repeat of this” late-night recommendation. 

Varadkar said there were three reasons the government rejected the Level 5 recommendation: 

  1. Wider societal impacts of lockdown such as hundreds of thousands losing jobs, businesses potentially closing permanently and mental health implications
  2. The recommendation “was not in line” with the Living with Covid plan the government had agreed with NPHET
  3. NPHET’s assessment that hospitals were imminently facing the possibility of being overwhelmed wasn’t shared by the CEO of the HSE Paul Reid and the HSE was not consulted beforehand on this

Varadkar said there was “no sudden change in the last three days that legitimised a move from [level] 3 to 5″. 

He said he has full confidence in Dr Tony Holohan as CMO and that he has “confidence in NPHET to dispense public health advice”.

“But that is what they do,” he added. “They don’t advise the public, they advise the government and government decides.”

“None of those people [in NPHET], for example, would have faced being on the pandemic unemployment payment yesterday.

“None of them would have to tell somebody that they were losing their job, and none of them would have had to shut their business for the last time.

“And I’m not talking about the economy, I’m talking about something that could have happened to half a million human beings tomorrow, and sometimes the reason and why politicians make these decisions, is because we’re the ones who can see the bigger picture.”

Varadkar said it’s “not just about a virus” or statistics, it’s about how it “impacts on so many different people and so many different communities in so many different ways”. 

“But bear in mind, this is still in our hands. We can push the virus back, it’s not inevitable that we’re facing into a second lockdown. But we do have to follow that basic public health advice that we all do agree on,” he added. 

Speaking to press tonight, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said this past day “hasn’t damaged” the relationship between government and NPHET. 

He said there remains a “strong working relationship”, adding that “there always has been and will continue”. 

Earlier this evening, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the government decided not to enter further into lockdown measures by moving to Level 5. 

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The situation will be reviewed again after this period.

“This is not about public health and businesses competing against each other, it’s about lives and livelihoods. We can’t have one without the other,” Martin said.

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