Dr Holohan says he kept Health Minister informed of his concerns on Sunday
CMO insists Donnelly didn’t ‘set parameters’
On the move: A Garda talks to a driver at a checkpoint on the N7 near Naas yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
October 08 2020 02:30 AM
Chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan warned the Government of his concerns about the rise in Covid-19 cases before public officials held an emergency meeting to discuss a national lockdown.
In a fresh twist to the controversy, it emerged Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was told about the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) concerns about “escalating case numbers”.
Dr Holohan revealed he discussed the meeting with Mr Donnelly, who gave him no indication he was opposed to a second national lockdown.
In his first public comments, the CMO said: “He didn’t set out parameters within which we would conduct our considerations.
“I was very clear, and I wouldn’t pre-empt the outcome of a discussion, but I was very clear about the level of concern that I had and have.”
Despite suggestions the CMO went on a solo run in pushing for a national lockdown, it has now transpired Dr Holohan was keeping the Health Minister fully informed throughout last weekend.
It can also be revealed Taoiseach Micheál Martin knew on Saturday afternoon about Nphet’s plan to hold an emergency meeting.
The Taoiseach’s spokesperson said the Health Minister informed Mr Martin the meeting was taking place due to Nphet concerns about a rise in case numbers.
Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson also admitted for the first time that the minister spoke to Mr Holohan before and after the controversial Sunday Nphet meeting that caused widespread public panic when it emerged a national lockdown was being recommended.
“Before the meeting, they discussed the deteriorating epidemiological situation,” the spokesperson said. “After the meeting the minister was informed for the first time that Nphet recommended a move to Level
She said the minister and Taoiseach “communicated after both conversations” between Mr Donnelly and Mr Holohan on Sunday.
At a press briefing in the Department of Health, Mr Holohan also confirmed he had kept the minister informed about Nphet’s deliberations. “We just discussed my concerns, the concerns I shared with him of the conversations I had with a range of members of Nphet over the course of the preceding 24 hours. And the fact I was going to hold a meeting of Nphet and would brief him afterwards,” he said.
Meanwhile, at least two senior ministers who attended Monday’s Cabinet meeting on the lockdown proposals said the Taoiseach gave the impression he did not know about the Nphet meeting.
However, Mr Martin’s spokesperson said he told the Cabinet “he didn’t know the Nphet meeting was about discussing changing levels, not that he didn’t know about the meeting”. It comes as on-the-spot fines and stronger enforcement around Level 3 restrictions are under consideration.
Mr Martin told the Dáil the issue was discussed at a meeting of the Covid Oversight Committee yesterday, chaired by Martin Fraser, secretary general of his department.
“We’re looking at the whole area of fines, for example, in terms of road traffic and so on,” he said.
The issue of fines was raised at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, including a proposed €50 on-the-spot fine for not wearing a face mask where required.
The Taoiseach seemed to suggest fines for motorists stopped outside their own county – with their vehicle number plates disclosing where they live to checkpoint gardaí, in many cases.
Mr Martin said there was consideration of “stronger enforcement around Level 3 restrictions”.
It emerged last night that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contacted the Taoiseach on Sunday after it emerged Level 5 lockdown had been recommended.
Mr Johnson sought information from Mr Martin about the implications of such a move for Northern Ireland. Mr Martin revealed his communication with Mr Johnson at Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party meeting. Further contacts between the two leaders on the virus are planned.