Cavan and Monaghan facing 'Level Four' restrictions before weekend

Border counties, including Cavan and Monaghan, are facing further COVID-19 restrictions and could be placed on 'Level Four' before the weekend.

The news follows confirmation this morning that pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland are to close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries; while schools north of the Border will shut for two weeks at mid-term in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the increased restrictions this morning, which will come into effect from Friday.

A further three Coronavirus deaths and another 811 confirmed cases were reported by the Department of Health in the Republic yesterday evening (Tuesday). They included an additional 22 cases for County Cavan, which now has the highest incidence rate of the virus in the county.

There were 314 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 in County Cavan in the two-week period up to Monday, October 12. It amounts to an incidence rate of 412.2 cases per 100,000 of population.

Donegal, in second position, has a comparable rate of 354.9; while Monaghan, in third, currently has an incidence rate of 312.8 cases per 100K of population.

Cavan General Hospital, meanwhile, has the largest number of Covid-19 admissions with 30 confirmed cases, compared to 25 in Beaumont and 21 in Letterkenny University Hospital.

The figures for the Border counties, coupled with the measures to be adopted in the North, suggest 'Level Four' restrictions are on the way (scroll down to see what that means?).

The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, had warned earlier this week Border counties may be subject to further restrictions.

He said the Government will respond to whatever decisions are made in Northern Ireland, while expressing concern about the incidence rates of the virus in Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan.

It is understood the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has been in contact with the Government regarding the possibility of a rapid move to Level 4 for the Border counties in a bid to limit cross-Border infections.

NPHET is due to meet on Thursday to discuss the pandemic and latest wave of infection in the Republic.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Varadkar said that "as best we can" there is an effort to co-ordinate and co-operate with Northern Ireland, although the Stormont Executive has not agreed to an all-island approach.

When asked if further restrictions could mean closing schools, as is being considered in Northern Ireland, Mr Vardakar said the Government's 'Living with Covid’ plan allowed for schools here to remain open even at Level 5.

He said that is based on international evidence that shows that schools, particularly primary schools, are not a major cause of transmission.

Mr Varadkar said the Government will listen to what NEPHET says tomorrow before making any further decisions.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, commenting on yesterday's figures said: “We have widespread community transmission in the country. The spread of COVID-19 is a whole population issue, which is why we’re appealing to every single individual, every single family, household, organisation, workplace, to act on public health advice. You are the frontline defence against this disease.”

Meanwhile, In a statement at a special sitting of the Assembly, Ms Foster said the situation needs to be urgently addressed as numbers continue to rise and hospitalisations are on the increase.

Under the measures, retail will remain open, but "close contact services" will be closed.

People are being advised to avoid all unnecessary travel and work from home, while universities will be asked to teach remotely to the maximum extent.

"We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people," Ms Foster told MLAs.

"The Executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail. We do not take this step lightly."

Ms Foster said the Executive hoped the restrictions would have two impacts.

"First, on the Covid transmission rates which must be turned down now, or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed," she said.

"Second, we believe it marks a point where everyone, each and every one of us, can take stock and go back to the social distancing messaging. That is vitally important."

In Northern Ireland, some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases there to 21,898.

Belfast Health Trust has cancelled all elective procedures this week to cope with a rise of Covid-19 cases being admitted to hospitals.

Attendance at funerals will be restricted to 25 people.

Schools will close from Monday, October 19, for a two-week period.

The Derry and Strabane Council area, which borders Donega, has been experiencing the highest infection rate in the UK and Ireland, with a seven-day average of 970 cases per 100,000 people.

The area is already subject to additional localised restrictions.

What does Level 4 in the Republic look like?

You cannot leave your county apart from work, education and other essential purposes. Only essential or other designated workers should go to work.

You are not allowed to have visitors to your home or garden. All social and family gatherings should take place in other settings.

All organised indoor gatherings are banned. Outdoor gatherings of up to 15 people can take place.

Museums, galleries and other cultural attractions will close.

Gyms, pools and leisure centres will close.

Only six people are allowed at weddings and 25 at funerals.

Capacity on public transport is reduced to 25%.

Schools and childcare will remain open with protective measures in place.