Q&A: Everything you need to know about Level 5 lockdown
Here is an overview of the new restrictions amid Covid-19 surge in Ireland
There has been mixed news on the vaccine front. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Back to full-blown Level 5 then? And earlier than we thought. Why is it happening now?
An emergency Cabinet meeting was held on Wednesday evening, with Covid-19 infections surging and the numbers in hospitals with the virus climbing alarmingly. After the meeting Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed the country was moving back to Level 5 in the Living with Covid-19 framework.
Why was ramping-up of restrictions agreed to?
It is all about the numbers. As the Cabinet was meeting, a further 1,718 cases of coronavirus were announced, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 90,157 in the Republic. Wednesday’s figure was the highest daily tally since the start of the crisis in February. A further 13 deaths relating to Covid-19 were also announced, taking the total number of deaths relating to the virus to 2,226.
Are those numbers as terrible as they sound?
Yes, and it has been widely anticipated that things are only likely to get worse in the days ahead. “This is perhaps the most dangerous moment for the country since Covid-19 began,” one Minister said ahead of the meeting.
How is testing going?
It is approaching capacity. With widespread transmission of the virus now occurring in the community, the benefit of individuals taking action to prevent infection “far outweighs” what testing and tracing can achieve, according to HSE chief executive Paul Reid.
So, what was decided at the Cabinet meeting?
All Level 5 restrictions were agreed, including the closure on Thursday evening of non-essential retail and the re-imposition of restricted movement to within 5km which came into effect at midnight on Wednesday.
Gyms and swimming pools must stay closed from close of business Thursday. Golf and tennis clubs are closed.
No visitors are permitted in private homes or gardens (except for essential family reasons such as providing care to children, elderly or vulnerably people).
Organised outdoor gatherings are not allowed, people may meet only one person from another household when taking exercise.
Funerals are limited to 10 mourners. Wedding parties cut to just six people from January 3rd. People are being asked to work from home.
School holidays are to be extended by almost a week and will not reopen until January 11th. The situation is expected to be reviewed before that date.
Yes. Even the smallest of New Year’s Eve house parties have been knocked on the head. The Government is ending a concession which would have allowed two families to socialise in one home until December 31st.
And rules already in place will remain?
Gastro-pubs and restaurants will have to stay closed, although takeaway and delivery services will be allowed. Hairdressers, salons, cinemas, galleries and museums also closed on Christmas Eve and will remain shut. Mass and religious services have moved online only.
What about schools?
Schools are to remain closed until January 11th. Students were due to return on January 6th. Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online. Early Learning and Chidcare Services are open with protective measures.
The Department of Housing has confirmed that a moratorium on evictions will be reintroduced from midnight on Wednesday until February 10th due to the curbs on travel. The Government have further agreed the ban on air travel and passenger travel on ferries from the UK will be extended to January 6th. As a similar new strain has been identified in South Africa, this ban will also apply to South Africa.
And when will all the new restrictions end?
It is hard to say for sure. The Taoiseach said the restrictions will be in place until the end of January. However, he admitted many of the measures could remain beyond that point. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has previously indicated that there is a case for Level 5 restrictions staying in place until those most at risk are vaccinated.
What about the vaccines?
There has been mixed news on this front. By the end of the week about 40,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should be in the country. This will be followed by 40,000 per week throughout January and early February, which will largely be for nursing homes. Ireland is set to receive an additional one million doses after the EU responded to surging case numbers by ramping up orders for the one treatment it has so far authorised. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU will now take an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine, on top of the 200 million already ordered.
And the bad news?
There have been delays in the approval of other vaccines Ireland is due to get. The rollout of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is unlikely to go ahead as hoped in January after a senior official in the European Medicines Agency said regulators did not have enough information about it. Ireland has ordered 3.3 million doses of this vaccine. It has also ordered 3.3 million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine, but this is delayed until late 2021.
And what about the new variant of Covid-19?
At the time of writing seven cases of the new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19, first identified in the UK, have been sequenced in the Republic, along with one in Northern Ireland, according to a new risk assessment from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It added that while there is no information to suggest that infections with the new strain are more severe, because of increased transmissibility, the impact of the virus is assessed as high in terms of hospitalisations and deaths.