October 19, 2020 10:21:22 PM
Ireland will be placed in a second lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The Irish Government has agreed to impose the highest level of restrictions under its five-tiered plan for living with Covid-19 from midnight on Wednesday for six weeks.
In doing so, the country will adopt one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
The country’s premier Micheal Martin described the move to level 5 restrictions as “very, very serious”.
He said the Government cannot stop the virus on its own.
“There are no laws or powers that can change the nature of this virus,” he said.
“Many people have done everything that has been asked of them. But some have not. As Taoiseach I am asking everyone again to take this threat seriously.”
The Fianna Fail leader announced the tighter restrictions in an address to the nation from Government Buildings in Dublin on Monday evening after Cabinet ministers approved the measures.
They will last until December 1.
It comes amid a record number of cases recorded over recent days.
Under the restrictions, schools and creches will remain open Mr Martin said because “we cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease”.
No social or family gatherings will be allowed in homes or gardens, but visits on compassionate grounds and for caring purposes can continue.
Attendance at weddings will be maintained at 25 guests.
Restaurants, cafes and bars will be permitted to provide takeaway services only. Only essential retail may remain open.
People are being asked to stay at home, with exercise permitted within a 5km radius of their home.
Only essential workers whose physical presence is required in the workplace are permitted to travel to work. Those who can work from home must do so.
Construction work has been deemed “essential” and will continue during this phase. Most manufacturing will also remain open.
There will be a penalty for movement outside 5km of home, with exemptions to this for essential work and essential purposes.
Legislation is expected to come before Cabinet on Tuesday to introduce fines for breaching some restrictions.
The Taoiseach said “enhanced financial supports” for individuals and businesses would be introduced to help people cope with the new measures.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be reinstated to €350 for those earning over €400 a week.
New mental health services will also be rolled out.
Mr Martin added that social isolation and anxiety were very “real issues” and therefore those living alone or parenting alone would be able to pair with another household as part of a “support bubble”.
He said he understood the “sense of disappointment, the feelings of loneliness, perhaps even the despair” that the announcement would bring for many people.
“The days are getting shorter and colder but I ask you to remember this: even as the winter comes in, there is hope. And there is light,” he said.
Mr Martin added that if everyone pulled together, the country would be able to celebrate Christmas “in a meaningful way”.
“It won’t be the same Christmas that we have enjoyed in years past, but if we all pull together and follow the spirit of these new rules, it will be a very special time and will give us all some respite from the hardship of the last seven months,” he said.
“If each of us does what is asked of us for a period of just six weeks, we will suppress this virus and we will emerge from these restrictions on December 1.”
A further 1,031 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Monday, bringing the total to more than 50,000 for the first time.
No new deaths linked to the virus were reported.
Of the new cases, 235 were in Dublin, 232 in Cork, 60 in Galway, 47 in Limerick, 47 in Kerry, and the remaining 410 cases were spread across 21 counties.
As of 2pm on Monday afternoon, 298 people with Covid-19 were in hospitals – including 34 people in intensive care units.
The National Public Health Emergency Team on Thursday recommended moving to Level 5 of the Covid-19 restrictions framework for six weeks.
The public health officials briefed political leaders in Dublin on Saturday about their concerns over the recent rapid spread of the virus.
The Cabinet sub-committee met on Monday morning to discuss Nphet’s advice.
The leaders of the Government parties also met to discuss the final details of the plan ahead of the Cabinet meeting on Monday evening.
It was the second time in a fortnight that Nphet officials had advised the Government to move to the highest level of measures.
The Government did not heed the previous advice. Instead they placed the entire country into Level 3 restrictions.
Currently counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are at Level 4, while the rest of the country is at Level 3.
During a press conference after his address, Mr Martin defended the Government’s decision not to move to level 5 sooner.
He said they “weren’t ready two weeks ago to go to level 5” and that he expected that the country would be dealing with Covid-19 for the “entirety of 2021”.
“The Budget itself was an important set of measures that would enable us to get through this over the medium term, well beyond the next six months because I think we’re going to have Covid-19 with us for the entirety of 2021,” he said.