Coronavirus: People told to stay at home in virtually all circumstances

Gardaí to mount major show of force over weekend to ensure compliance

Leo Varadkar has announced further sweeping restrictions on social and commercial life.

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People have been told to stay at home in virtually all circumstances and all public and private gatherings have been banned for two weeks as part of the Government’s latest sweeping measures to tackle coronavirus.

More non-essential shops and services will be closed, non-essential surgery is to stop and a ban on visiting hospitals and other healthcare settings is being imposed except on compassionate grounds.

The only exceptions to the stay-at-home rule is for travel to health, social care or other essential work, shopping for food and takeaways, medical appointments and for “vital family reasons” such as providing care.

People will also be allowed take “brief, individual” physical exercise within 2km of their home, and farming will continue.

Major policing

Late on Friday night An Garda Síochána said there would be a major policing operation this weekend to ensure the new restrictions were being complied with. There will be a high visibility Garda presence all over the country involving thousands of gardaí on foot, bike and mobile patrols.

The Garda operation which runs until 7am on Monday will focus on encouraging compliance with the new measures. However, the Garda said they would intervene where groups of people or venues or outlets were ignoring the new restrictions.

The measures were announced shortly after the death of another three people from the virus was announced.

A healthcare worker has died in the east of the country.

Shielding, or cocooning, is to be introduced for everyone over 70 years of age and other vulnerable categories of people, effectively requiring them to stay at home.

The list of essential workers exempted from the provisions, to be published today, includes those in healthcare, social care, the public and civil service, utilities, necessary goods (food and medicine), financial services, transport and communications, it is understood. Journalists are also expected to be included.

Use of public transport is to be limited to people providing essential services, travel to offshore islands will be limited to residents and pharmacists will be able to dispense medicines even where prescriptions have expired.

“These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared, announcing the measures in Government Buildings. “In the days or weeks ahead, we’re not prisoners of fate, we can influence what’s going to happen to us next.”

Mr Varadkar appealed to people to “give meaning to our freedom” by agreeing to the restrictions, “restricting how we live our lives, so that others may live”.

“I’m asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause. And I’m appealing to every man, woman and child in our country to make the sacrifices, not out of self interest, but for the love of each other.”

Recommendations

The extra measures are being introduced on foot of recommendations by the National Public Health Emergency Team at its meeting earlier on Friday.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said NPHET was concerned about increases in the numbers of cases, ICU admissions and deaths, as well as the emergence of 10 clusters of the disease in nursing homes.

A total of 22 people with Covid-19 have now died in the Republic. The number of new confirmed cases of the disease surged to 302 yesterday, the highest daily total so far. There are now 2,121 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

The number of cases is doubling roughly every four days, which is somewhat better than was forecast at the start of the outbreak.

Up to last Wednesday, 419 patients had been hospitalised with the disease, it said, and 59 of these had been admitted to ICU.

While declining to describe the measures as a “lockdown”, Mr Varadkar admitted they were “very restrictive” and added: “There isn’t much more we can do.”

He admitted the measures would be hard to police but said the gardaí have powers to detain people and that penalties can be imposed.

Meanwhile President Michael D Higgins has signed into law the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020.

It gives the Government extensive emergency powers to combat the 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 healthcare workers and former soldiers.

It also provides temporary income support schemes by contributing to wage costs to allow employers to continue paying their employees.

President Higgins said it was for “a time of crisis” and it was appropriate it had time limits and left constitutional rights in place.

Protective equipment

Stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff tackling the Covid-19 outbreak are “beginning to run low”, according to the Health Service Executive. It is currently seeking to redistribute stocks to sites with “particular shortages”, it said.

A large shipment of PPE is scheduled to arrive in Dublin Airport on Sunday and be distributed in the following days, but it remains unclear if existing supplies will be sufficient to bridge the gap until then.

Correction (March 31st, 2020)

An earlier version of this article said wrongly that the first healthcare worker had died in the Covid-19 outbreak, a nurse at Tallaght Hospital. The healthcare worker was not a nurse and was not employed in Tallaght Hospital.

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