Nphet wanted non-essential retail to shut in bid to control ‘frightening’ spread of Covid-19

The Government looks set to reject a request from public health officials to shut non-essential retail from St Stephens Day, as part of a move to Level 5 lockdown for six weeks in a bid to control the frightening spread of Covid-19 in the State.
Government sources confirmed that the recommendation to shut retail had been made in a letter sent by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) following its meeting on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, said the Cabinet would consider Nphets advice, when it meets on December 29th.
The data to date had shown that non-essential retail was not affecting the spread of the virus, said Mr Coveney, but the Cabinet would consider Nphet s advice, he told RTÉ Radios Morning Ireland.
Mr Coveney went on to reject a suggestion that the decision to relax restrictions at the start of December had been a mistake.
He said evidence and data on the virus changed all the time and the easing at the start of the month had been made in the context of advice from Nphet.
Under published Level 5 plans from the Government, a move to full Level 5 restrictions as recommended by Nphet would rule out visits to private homes or gardens from Saturday, however this was due to be the case a week later on January 1st.
The Government decided on Tuesday to keep non-essential retail open after Christmas although the traditional post-Christmas sales will not proceed.
Under new restrictions agreed by the Cabinet the hospitality sector will close at 3pm.
It comes as preliminary data showed the presence of the new UK variant of coronavirus in the State, Dr Cillian de Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory has said.
News about the strain of the virus, which is thought to be far more infectious, being present in the State came as 938 further cases and 13 more deaths were reported on Wednesday.
Prof de Gascun said the variant may be present in around 10 per cent of the swabs analysed, but that this needed further validation.
However, senior members of Nphet said on Wednesday night that they did not believe the UK variant is currently substantially driving infection here.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that since restrictions were changed at the beginning of December, the level of social contact that has happened, in particular around hospitality, has led to a very significant increase in the transmission of this infection.
Despite the presence of the UK variant, he said: We dont think thats been an important part of transmission in this country, weve seen a significant amount of social engagement that can explain this extent of really worrying numbers.
Dr de Gascun said the results suggested that the variant is likely concentrated in the east of the country.
Given the timing, it probably wouldnt in and of itself account for the significant increase in case numbers that we found, he said. He estimated that the UK variant had been in the country since the second week of December, at least, and may have been introduced in late November
Dr Holohan said every form of discretionary socialisation really has to stop if were to have a chance of suppressing this kind of level of transmission. He said there was a clear temporal association between the opening of hospitality and a very significant increase in the spread of the disease.
Prof Nolan said the relaxation of December 1st caused an increase in cases, but the relaxation of restrictions on hospitality coincides with a very rapid acceleration in the level of disease.
Asked why data does not reflect outbreaks in hospitality settings, Dr Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer said that of 7,000 cases in the last fortnight, the source of infection was unknown in 3,000 cases. The briefing heard that instances of transmission that occurred in hospitality settings are likely to be recorded sometimes as being managed in family homes, due to how contact tracing takes place.
Dr Holohan said we now have a level of disease in the population thats simply not in control, we have to re-establish control of this infection, drive down the levels if were going to continue to assure ourselves that we can maintain these essential public services.
Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said recent days had seen extraordinary growth in infection beyond what our extreme versions of modelling would have predicted.
We are deteriorating at a more rapid pace, in seven days, than any other country in Europe, he said. The rate at which the virus was spreading had reached a frightening level, he said.