Residents of Kildare, Laois and Offaly face limits on their movement for at least two weeks as part of a series of new restrictions in these areas in a bid to control a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also said cafes, restaurants and pubs in these three counties will close from midnight for two weeks as well as cinemas, theatres and museums. There will be no sporting events or matches and all gyms will close.
People in the three affected counties will only be allowed travel within their own county, unless it is for work or medical appointments, or for family reasons.
There will be an exemption for those who need to travel for farming reasons. There will be no travel into the three counties other than for work, medical reasons or other essential reasons like farming.
Those who need to get to other destinations through those counties will be able to do so but will be asked not to stop while travelling through these counties.
Garda checkpoints will be placed in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly to ensure people do not flout the restrictions, Garda sources said.
Regulations were expected to be drawn up over the weekend by the Department of Health which would again give gardaí the power to arrest people who breach the travel restrictions and who refuse to comply when stopped at a checkpoint.
Minister for Health Simon Donnelly said regulations are being put together to enforce the new restrictions. He said there would be Garda checkpoints in the three counties although he said “we will succeed by solidarity.” The regulations will apply from Sunday night onwards, he said.
The Department of Health on Friday reported another four deaths and 98 new cases - bringing the total number of deaths in Ireland to 1,772, and the number of confirmed cases to 26,470.
Mr Martin has said the extraordinary lockdown of the three Leinster counties where there have been alarming increases in cases in the past two weeks was done to prevent any widespread return of the virus.
In a live address on RTÉ News at 6pm, he said: "Over the past week there have been a number of localised clusters that are a serious concern.
“I want to be very clear that the Government is determined to do everything possible to prevent the return of widespread transmission of the virus” he said.
Speaking from Government Buildings, Mr Martin said the “process of reopening is not simple. It is not a case of moving forward step by step”.
Mr Martin said he understood the increasing impatience that many people feel. “There is a huge desire to get back to normal life.”
However, he added, the coronavirus pandemic presented “a deep and urgent threat, which is merciless and unrelenting”.
Mr Martin said: “While the burden of the decision falls heaviest on the three counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, the message needs to be understood everywhere in Ireland. There is nothing inevitable about keeping the disease under control.”
Working conditions in meat factories
Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said on Friday evening that he was not in a position to offer guarantees that the partial restrictions would be lifted in two weeks' time. He said the aim of acting at this point was to stop community transmission before it can take hold.
“While I know the next two weeks are going to be difficult for many, we need to continue to work together.”
He said he was not surprised that people are angry and disappointed and said the reality is that the virus spread quite quickly in these counties. “We felt really at this point we had to move.”
He said there were significant clusters in these areas as opposed to community transmission but that it would be “too late” to contain potential community transmission if action was not taken. On the issue of meat factories and concerns about the working conditions of workers there, Dr Glynn said dedicated outbreak control teams have been put in place over recent months and that “it did appear that things had come under control”. In terms of factories, Dr Glynn said two of the factories have over 80 cases. The dog food factory in Naas has just over 50 cases.
“We do know the people working in these facilities often live together, and travel to work together, and within the factories they work very closely together. Many of the environments are loud so people are shouting. There are a whole range of factors that lead to these sectors being high risk,”he said.
Political representatives in the three counties affected by a two week lockdown have responded with a mixture of shock and anger at the decision.
Dáil deputies representing Kildare, Laois and Offaly from across the political spectrum have called for emergency funding for businesses impacted and have been highly critical of the delayed response of State agencies to the “obvious” risks of outbreaks in meat processing plants and direct provision centres.
Under the new measures announced this evening people living in the three counties are advised to avoid public transport, particularly those who are vulnerable.
Indoor gatherings will be restricted to six people. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to around 15 people as long as strict social distancing can be maintained.
While restaurants and bars will have to close except for takeaway, those who can offer seats for 15 people outside can do so as long as strict social distancing is maintained.
Hotels can remain open but must limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons. Existing guests can remain for the duration of their booking.
The Taoiseach said those who can work from home in this region should do so.
Plans to reopen schools remain unchanged.
Shops will remain open but shoppers must wear masks. All cinemas, theatres, casinos, betting shops, bingo halls, gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools, exercise and dance studios must close.
Attendance at a funeral service and burial or cremation ceremony should be limited to 25 outdoors. Indoor events connected to the funeral are limited to a maximum of 6 people.
Places of worship remain open for private prayer, while services are to be held online.
Prison visits, nursing home visits and hospital visits will also be suspended under the new regional lockdown plan with the exception of the most critical and compassionate circumstances (for example end of life).
Meanwhile, a food processing plant in Co Kildare has announced further cases of coronavirus among its workers.
O’Brien Fine Foods said it stopped operations at its Timohoe facility at 9pm on Wednesday after 80 workers tested positive for coronavirus. On Friday, the firm announced a further six cases of coronavirus have been detected, adding in a statement that the “level of asymptomatic infectivity appears to be very high”.