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Stephen Donnelly has told the Dáil he heard of “serious concerns” and the possibility of “added restrictions” in a phone call with the Chief Medical Officer on Sunday morning.

But the embattled Minister for Health has insisted the “first time ever” he heard about a potential return to Level 5, total lockdown, was in a later call on Sunday evening.

Mr Donnelly has given his version of events around the leaking of NPHET’s Level 5 lockdown recommendation last Sunday.

He is insisting that he did not know the doomsday call about a Level 5 was coming before it was relayed to him by Dr Tony Holohan after the NPHET meeting on Sunday.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly

And it seems that the Minister has satisfied the public curiosity on the issue and can move on, even if some of the opposition in the Dáil think otherwise.

The threatened total lockdown news shocked the country and left many sleepless on Sunday night.

The Minister for Health had the decks cleared in Leinster House so he could explain himself after it emerged he knew of the concerns before anyone else at the weekend.

But Mr Donnelly said that he did not know that Level 5 was on the cards before the Dr Holohan briefed him over the phone that evening, after which he informed the Taoiseach of the development.

09/09/2020 – Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Photo: Julien Behal)

Earlier in the day, Leo Varadkar claimed he didn’t have “an inkling” that we were heading for Level 5 before NPHET’s recommendation was leaked.

His comments came after it was confirmed that Mr Donnelly had cleared the agenda in the Dáil for his special statement.

He was aiming to draw a line in the sand on the mini-controversy that had boiled over concerning who in the Government knew what and when about the proposed Level 5 move that never came to pass.

The squabble dominated Leaders’ Questions both Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and the Social Democrats’ Catherine Murphy taking on Tánaiste Leo Varadkar over it.

Mr Varadkar said: “To clarify, and to make very clear, I was informed on Saturday, as was the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party, that a meeting of NPHET was called for Sunday.

“There was no suggestion, not even an inkling that Level 5 was being contemplated.

“Had we known that we would have sought an urgent briefing that night and that’s what could have happened, and would have happened in my view.

“The first indication I got that Level 5 was being considered was on Sunday evening after the NPHET meeting had taken place and I received in writing at 8:30 setting out the recommendations and the reasons for it.”

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Mr Varadkar added that he has a great relationship with the Chief Medical Officer.

He said: “I didn’t say a bad word about him, he’s someone I respect immensely.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader, Alan Kelly, called into question “the competence” of Minister Donnelly in his handling of Covid.

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