Level 5 restrictions to remain in place until January 31st, says Taoiseach
Schools to remain closed until January 11th with non-essential retail to shut on Thursday
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced the return of “full scale” Level 5 restrictions for “at least one month” and warned many of the measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 are likely to continue beyond January 31st.
He said schools would remain closed until January 11th while all non-essential retail will shut from close of business on Thursday.
The 5km limit on travel will be reimposed and households visits will be banned from midnight, unless people are providing care to children, the elderly or vulnerable, or are part of a support bubble.
“We will be having a New Year’s Eve like no other,” Mr Martin said.
Up to 10 mourners will be permitted to attend funerals.
Up to and including January 2nd, a maximum of 25 guests can attend a wedding ceremony and reception, whether indoors or outdoors. From January 3rd, up to six guests are permitted.
Universities are being asked to continue operating primarily online, while creches will remain open “with protective measures”.
Preschools or early learning services will resume from January 4th.
The Department of Housing has confirmed that a moratorium on evictions will be reintroduced from midnight until February 10th due to the curbs on travel.
Sports matches and events are banned, except for elite levels. Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will close and golf and tennis should not take place. Exercise or dance classes will not be allowed.
The ban on flights and ferries coming from Britain into the Republic will be extended until January 6th, while travel from South Africa will also be prohibited.
The travel ban had been put in place over fears of a new Covid-19 variant identified in southeast England, and was previously extended until December 31st.
The new variant, which is believed to be significantly more transmissible, has since been detected in the Republic.
New arrangements would be put in place after that date, and “limited repatriation” of Irish residents left stranded in Britain would continue in the meantime, the source said.
A different mutant variant of Covid-19 is prevalent in South Africa.
In his address to nation, Mr Martin said the new UK strain of Covid-19 was here and the virus was spreading at a rate faster than even the most pessimistic modelling, putting the health service under strain. On Tuesday, 18 per cent of positive cases were this strain.
We are already seeing a sharp rise in hospitalisations, he said, almost doubling in one week. The R number is now between 1.6 and 1.8.
“The numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days,” he said, and that we will “do what we need to do” to suppress it.
This now includes “full scale Level 5 restrictions for at least one month”.
He said we now have safe and effective vaccines and factories working around the clock to produce them.
“For the first time since this awful disease landed on our shores we truly have an end in sight.
“The virus can still do immense damage until we have progressed much much further with the vaccination programme.”
Until then, we have to continue protecting the vulnerable, he added.
“Right now this is what we must do. We must stay at home and eliminate contacts with others now.”
In a press conference after his announcement, Mr Martin said: “I think it’s fair to say that quite a lot of these restrictions will continue on beyond the end of this month.”
“[But] if we have the vaccination rolled out to the most vulnerable achieved by the end of the month that just might give us room for manoeuvre on some fronts. But I think people have to psychologically get into our heads that this is a different era we are now entering into in relation to the evolution of this virus.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “The next three months in Ireland are going to be difficult, they will be as difficult as the last nine months were”, adding that while he was optimistic about vaccines it was important not to give people false hope.
Mr Varadkar said 50,000 people were laid off on Christmas Eve when hospitality closed but that supports remain.
On economic cost, Mr Martin said this was “significant”. Last week’s measures made 50,000 people unemployed and Wednesday’s measures could add 40,000 more.
The National Public Health Emergency Team reported 13 coronavirus-related deaths and 1,718 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, more than the previous record reported on Tuesday.
A Cabinet meeting was hastily arranged on Tuesday following what was described as an “exponential” increase in the number of cases, the highest number of hospitalisations since May and a massive rise in referrals of suspected cases in the past week.
Minsters said they expected numbers to continue to grow sharply over the coming days reflecting increased social contacts at Christmas. “This is perhaps the most dangerous moment for the country since Covid-19 began,” said one Minister, speaking on the basis of anonymity.
Ireland started its vaccine rollout on Tuesday and Annie Lynch, a 79-year-old Dublin grandmother, on Tuesday became the first person in the Republic to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
She was among 2,000 people, mostly frontline health workers, who received the first supply of the vaccine in four hospitals in Dublin, Galway and Cork.
Ireland is set to receive an additional one million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after the EU responded to surging case numbers by ramping up orders for the one treatment it has so far authorised.