Midlands lockdown Q&A: Firstly, is it a lockdown or not?

Will the restrictions be policed in the same way as during the national lockdown?

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said  ‘the vast amount of businesses are staying open, the vast amount of social life is going to continue, so the measures are proportionate,’ he said. Photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said ‘the vast amount of businesses are staying open, the vast amount of social life is going to continue, so the measures are proportionate,’ he said. Photograph: Collins

 

Firstly, is it a lockdown or not?

Well, that depends on who you ask. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly insists it is not a lockdown and residents of counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly are simply being asked to restrict non-work to within those three counties, and minimise gatherings, with homes allowed no more than six people from no more than three households. “The vast amount of businesses are staying open, the vast amount of social life is going to continue, so the measures are proportionate,” he said.

I’m guessing some people disagree?

Correct. Business leaders for one, who are warning of “an economic meltdown” in the midlands as a result of the restrictions.

They have complained that the Government did not consult with them before imposing the measures as of midnight on Friday.

As well as the travel and gathering restrictions, restaurants and pubs serving food have been ordered to close, apart from takeaway services, deliveries and limited outdoor dining.

Indoor entertainment and sport venues such as cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries and bingo halls have also been told to shut for at least two weeks. Many hotels will also likely close.

More than a 1,000 jobs will be lost just in Co Kildare alone, according to Allan Shine, chief executive of County Kildare Chamber, who said mass community testing should have been carried out first to see if there was a need for the tightened restrictions.

Has he got a point?

Not according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). In its advice to the Cabinet, which informed the latest restrictions, it said the measures are “proportionate” and “necessary now” to curb the surge in Covid-19 transmissions in the three counties.

There has been “several significant and large clusters” in the region, particularly among the under 45 years age group, and there is a “real risk” that it may spread “much more widely” over the coming days and weeks into the wider community and those more vulnerable to the disease.

To make its point, it noted the number of confirmed cases per population for coronavirus in Ireland over the last 14 days was 9.6 per 100,000 people. In Kildare, that figure is 61.6 per 100,000; in Laois it is 62.6 per 100,000; and in Offaly it is 46.2 per 100,000. There have been 150 new confirmed infections in Kildare over the past two weeks; 55 in Laois; and 36 in Offaly.

Why are those counties bucking the national trend?

Outbreaks at meat factories and direct provision centres are a key factor. More than a quarter of the staff at the O’Briens Fine Food plant in Timahoe, Co Kildare, tested positive, many of them asymptomatic. There have been further outbreaks at the Kildare Chilling Company meat plant in Kildare Town and Irish Dog Foods in Naas. Former minister for justice and Laois TD Charlie Flanagan said testing at meat factories should have been “ramped up weeks ago”.

Will the movement restrictions be policed the same as during the national lockdown?

Apparently not. Gardaí are setting up highly visible checkpoints and will ask people to return home if they are suspected of being in breach of the regulations. In a statement on Saturday gardaí said extra officers would be drafted in from surrounding counties.

An Garda said it was deploying a graduated policing response in a bid to ensure people adhere to the requirement to remain within their own county but said there was “no enforcement element” to this operation.

This differs from the national lockdown, when, under emergency laws introduced, refusing to comply with directions from gardaí during the localised lockdown could result in fines of up to €2,500 and terms of imprisonment of up to six months. *

What if I don’t live in the three counties but need to travel through them?

That is allowed. But only on the condition you do not stop in the affected counties unless for “essential purposes.” Motorists are also restricted to just one initial journey either into or out of the counties for the purposes of returning home from a holiday.

Speaking of holidays, what if I’m staying at a hotel in one of the counties?

If you were already booked in by midnight on Friday, you can stay for the duration of your booking.

The question will be whether it is economically viable for the hotel to remain open if only a handful of guests are staying there. Hotels in the counties are only allowed to accommodate essential workers otherwise. It is expected many will shut their doors for the coming two weeks.

And for residents of the three counties who have planned or are already on a holiday elsewhere?

Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, said hotels are contacting anyone with an address in Kildare, Laois and Offaly who were booked to stay with them over the next fortnight to allow them cancel or move their booking.

Anyone already booked in can stay for the duration of their booking. One issue is people booking through online booking sites who may not have provided an address. Ms Fitzgerald Kane said hotels are contacting anyone for whom they don’t have an address by telephone or email to check they are not from the three counties where restrictions apply.

And are there any insurance implications for the local lockdown?

None, according to Insurance Ireland, which represents the industry.

* An earlier version of this article stated gardaí did have enforcement powers when it came to policing the movement of people under the regulations signed into force by the Minister for Health on Saturday.

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