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'The outcome will be the same': Nationwide move to Level 3 will not stop spread of Covid-19, expert warns

Professor Sam McConkey believes case numbers will continue to rise if the Government rejects NPHET’s advice.

Image: Sam Boal

AN INFECTIOUS DISEASE expert has warned that Covid-19 will continue to spread through society if the entire country is moved to Level 3 restrictions.

Professor Sam McConkey, from the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, said Covid-19 case numbers will still rise – albeit more slowly – if the Government rejects official health advice to move the country to Level 5 restrictions instead.

It is understood a nationwide move to Level 3 will be announced by the Government this evening, following a Cabinet meeting this afternoon.

That meeting came after a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) last night that the entire country should move to Level 5, the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions.

Dublin and Donegal are currently the only counties on Level 3, but case numbers have gradually risen in recent weeks, with more than 600 new cases of the virus reported on Saturday. 

Reacting to reports this afternoon that the Government will move to nationwide Level 3 restrictions, McConkey told a town hall meeting of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group that the outcome would be the same as most counties remaining at Level 2.

“Unfortunately, I think that will not bring the R number to less than one, that we’ll still have similar numbers of cases with just a slower rate of increase,” he said.

“And after a number of weeks, we’ll end up escalating the level [of restrictions]. I think the outcome will be the same, but just slower.”

McConkey suggested that Ireland could reduce rates of Covid-19 to almost no new cases by late December or January if strict restrictions were put in place instead.

He pointed to measures which shut down the country in March as an example of this already occurring, but acknowledged that doing so again would have to be happen on an all-island basis, with limited foreign travel an the ability for mass testing.

McConkey also claimed that county-by-county approaches were not practical, because there was no capacity to make decisions at individual county levels.

Under the Government’s Living with Covid plan, unveiled last month, counties can be placed on different levels of restrictions at different times.

“I think we do need national guidance on this. I think once we get down to low levels, where counties have no cases for two or four weeks, then certainly they could open up earlier,” McConkey said.

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“That means not to people like me going in and out from Dublin, but that domestic sports and businesses within counties could open up to the people there.”

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