The Government has announced further sweeping restrictions on social and commercial life tonight as it struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.
From midnight tonight, the country is on lockdown, with people told to stay in their homes with only a limited number of reasons for which they can leave.
For the next two weeks, citizens must stay at home, with limited exceptions. People working in essential services will be allowed to travel to work and people will be allowed to leave home to shop for food or exercise within 2km of their homes. Otherwise people are being told to stay at home, with all travel beyond 2km from their homes banned.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said they were radical actions, in addition to restrictions already in place, to try to save as many lives as possible.
He said: “With effect from midnight tonight for a two-week period until Easter Sunday, April 12th, everybody must stay at home in all circumstances except for the following situations:
- to travel to and from work for the purposes of work, only where the work is an essential health, social care, or other essential service that cannot be done form home (a list of these will be provided)
- to shop for food or household goods, or collect a meal
- to attend medical appointments or collect medicines and other health products
- for vital family reasons, such a providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people
- to take brief, individual physical exercise within 2km of your own home, which may include children from your own household, as long as you adhere to two-metre physical distancing
- and for farming purposes, that is food production and the care of animals
All public and private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, he said.
A further range of non-essential shops and services will be closed, he added.
Adult community education centres and local community centres will be shut.
All non-essential surgery, health procedures and other non essential health services will be postponed.
All visits to hospitals, other residential healthcare settings and prisons are to cease, with specific exceptions on compassionate grounds.
Meanwhile, shielding or cocooning will be introduced of all those aged over 70 and specified categories of people who are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19.
Travel to offshore islands will be limited to residents of those islands.
Pharmacists will be permitted to dispense medicines outside of the current period of validity of the existing prescription in line with the pharmacist’s clinical judgment.
All public transport and passenger travel will be restricted only to essential workers and to people providing essential services.
“Apart from the activities I’ve listed there should be no travel outside of 2km radius of your home for any reason,” Mr Varadkar said.
The full list of essential workers will be published by the Government as early as possible on Saturday.
In the meantime, the Government advice for businesses and services which consider themselves essential is to remain open.
It is understood they will include public and civil service personnel, those working in utilities, necessary goods (food and medicines), financial services, transport, and communications.
Mr Varadkar was speaking in a televised press conference at Government Buildings with Minister for Health Simon Harris and the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan.
These are the latest in a series of restrictions - and by far the most stringent - that the Government has steadily introduced since the outbreak of Covid-19 began. The aim is to slow the spread of the virus in order to allow hospitals to cope with an expected influx of patients.
“There is not much more beyond this we could do in terms of restrictions,” Mr Varadkar said.
Dr Holohan said that the measures were intended to “significantly interrupt the transmission of the virus”.
He said that the emergence of clusters of the virus in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities was a significant concern for public health experts.
Dr Holohan said it was “not possible to predict” whether the Government would be in a position to lift the restrictions in two weeks’ time.
Mr Varadkar said the number of ICU admissions as a result of Covid-19 cases had doubled since Monday.
Signed into law
Earlier President Michael D Higgins signed into law the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020.
It gives the Government extensive emergency powers to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate economic collapse.
The Bill prevents evictions of tenants, imposes a rent freeze, allows restaurants to become takeaways and provides for the rehiring of retired health care workers and former soldiers.
It also provides temporary income support schemes by contributing to wage costs to allow employers to continue paying their employees.
In a statement after signing the Bill into law the President expressed his sympathies to all those who have lost a family member or friend to Covid-19.
“As we enter a crucial period in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, may I again express my sympathies to all those who have lost a family member or friend, and my best wishes to all those who have been infected by the virus, all those who have not had the opportunity to express their grief, or offer their care and visits to those they love.
“May I express, on behalf of the people of Ireland, our shared sense of sadness at the increase in the number of our people who have died as a result of the pandemic.
“Behind the statistics we will hear, or have read, that there are families grieving and people in distress because they cannot meet their loved ones.
“As we muster our resolve to be far more vigilant as we enter a most difficult phase of tackling the virus, it is appropriate for me to express my thanks to the Irish people for their response to the crisis, and urge them to stay the course and encourage others to do so,” he said.
He noted so many people are continuing to do their best “to keep us safe and to keep the country going, through their efforts in the health service, in public service bodies, in important social services, in shops and in pharmacies. It is appropriate that we, as a nation, thank them for their service by doing our bit, by complying with the HSE advice.
“Extraordinary and difficult measures have been necessary as we try to stem the tide of increasing infection. The effects of those measures will become visible in the coming weeks.
“The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis. It is appropriate that it has time limits and leaves our constitutional rights in place.
“These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end. Let us make sure that, through the decisions and actions we take at present, we ensure the health and safety of each other, all of us together.”