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Covid restrictions Ireland: Micheál Martin confirms ‘full-scale’ Level 5 lockdown

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed Ireland will move to Level 5 of Covid restrictions as cases continue to rise around the country.

Schools will remain closed until January 11 while household visits will be banned from midnight.

Non-essential retail and gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will close from end of business tomorrow.

Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until midnight on 31st January 2021.

Follow our live blog for updates below.

Minister Martin said controls had to be put in place to protect the health service.

"Families will have an opportunity to minimise their contacts by the time children return to school," he added.

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"We are all weary from the bottom of our hearts of this disease and the impact it's had on our lives.

"The next month as we face into these strictest controls in the depth of winter, is going to be very tough on everyone.

"But after a year of the most extraordinary effort by the most talented scientific minds on earth, we have safe and effective vaccines... producing this life saving intervention and we have a global supply chain delivering it round the world.

"For the first time since this terrible disease landed on our shores, we truly have an end in sight.... In January I'm confident tens of thousands of our healthcare workers and our most vulnerable will have been vaccinated."

However, the vaccination programme would "take time" and all public health measures had to be taken to protect people until the vaccine had been fully effective across society.

The pandemic had taken a toll on the economy and on mental health and Ireland would not know the true cost for some time, he added.

"We will rebuild society," he said. "We will come to terms with this crisis and make sense of the trauma we've all been through in due course.

"We will do all these things and start them in the coming year because the vaccine exists but right now we must stay at home and eliminate contacts to make sure that as many of our people as possible are still with us to enjoy the better, brighter days, that are up ahead."

Green leader Eamon Ryan said: "It's going to be a difficult thing but it's the right thing to do now."

19.00

The Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government expected a mass vaccination in the next three months but "the next three months will be difficult."

"I am optimistic but I am hopeful."

Minister Martin said: "Looking onto the summer I expect we will have a significant number of people vaccinated."

Within weeks he expected 50,000 healthcare workers to be vaccinated.

But he added: "We need to protect our loved ones, our healthcare workers by putting as much pressure as possible on the virus over the next two months in particular."

18.50

Teacher unions say the delayed re-opening must be used to review safety measures in schools in light of the new variant.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said “serious consideration must be given to whether safety measures were now sufficient given the emergence of the new strain.”

The ASTI has already asked Education Minister Norma Foley to consult with Nphet with regard to the implications of the new variant for schools.

Mr Christie said today’s announcement presented a new window of opportunity for a comprehensive review of the existing school safety arrangements and mitigations that were in place.

“All those involved in our school communities – teachers, students, parents, and school managers – must be assured that schools are safe places for teachers and students to work and learn in, in the context of the increased incidence of the virus and the emergence of a new strain with enhanced transmissibility.”

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Michael Gillespie also said that the delay in re-opening must be used to ensure that schools are as safe as possible for students and staff.

Her said there was “grave concern and anxiety around the recent significant rise in the number of positive Covid-19 cases and the potential implications of the new variant of the disease”.

“It is vital that the additional time be used to investigate what additional safety measures and enhancements may be required in schools. In this regard, any required resourcing must be made available.”

18.46

Aer Lingus said it will not be operating flights between Britain and the Republic of Ireland following the extension of the ban on travel until January 6.

Aer Lingus is however operating flights in order to facilitate the repatriation of customers to Great Britain and those with connecting flights.

Customers whose flights have been cancelled will be contacted by Aer Lingus directly, and are entitled to a refund, voucher or rerouting at a later date.

18.44

Level 5 restrictions will come into effect from tonight with the exception of non-essential retail and gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools which will close tomorrow.

The restrictions will remain in place until midnight on 31 January 2021.

No visitors are permitted in private homes/gardens (except for essential family reasons such as providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people, or as part of a support bubble).

Schools will be open from January 11 with a further review on the precise situation in advance of that date.

Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online. No social/family gatherings should take place in other settings.

All retail, other than essential retail must close from close of business on 31st December.

Bars, cafes, restaurants, including hotel restaurants/bars will remain closed for a month and take away food and delivery only will be available.

All non-essential services remain closed. Click and Collect services will be available.

People may meet with people from one other household in outdoor settings when taking exercise.

All visits to residential care have been suspended, aside from under critical and compassionate circumstances.

And the over 70s and medically vulnerable should exercise individual judgement during the restrictions.

People are requested to walk or cycle where possible and to avoid public transport, so it can be used by essential workers for essential purposes only. Public transport capacity is restricted to 25pc.

Weddings planned up to and including January 2 may proceed as planned with up to a maximum of 25 guests.

Weddings from January 3 may proceed, but with a maximum of six guests.

Funerals may have up to 10 mourners.

People will be required to stay at home except for travel for work, education or other essential purposes, and will be permitted to take exercise within 5 km of home.

People away from their place of residence on December 31 will be permitted to return to their place of residence.

Everyone will have to work from home unless they are an essential worker in health, social care or other essential service and that work cannot be done from home.

The Government said it has “considered a number of factors in arriving at this decision, particularly Nphet concerns that the epidemiological profile of Covid-19 has continued to deteriorate very substantially.

“It is recognised that this decision will have an impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, but the clear message is that we must all now stay at home, with the exception of essential purposes, in order to stop the spread of the virus.

“Supports such as the PUP and the CRSS will continue to be made available to those impacted.

“A double payment of the CRSS, up to a maximum of €5,000 a week will be available to those subject to restrictions this week and next week.

“Furthermore, businesses affected will be able to avail of commercial rates relief for the first three months of 2021.

“The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is also available to help maintain people in jobs, along with extensive tax warehousing arrangements, reduced VAT rates, the spend and stay scheme, a range of reduced cost loans, grants and voucher schemes.”

The Government has further agreed that the ban on air travel and passenger travel on ferries from the UK will be extended to January 6. As a similar new strain has been identified in South Africa, this ban will also apply to South Africa until 6th January.

Additional to the restrictions, the Government has stated no organised indoor events should take place for business, no organised outdoor events should take place.

All museums, galleries and other indoor cultural attractions closed. Nightclubs, discos and casinos will remain closed.

And hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs etc will open only for those with essential non-social and non-tourist purposes. Anyone staying in a hotel on December 30 may complete their stay.

Only individual training will be permitted. There must be no exercise or dance classes, no indoor or outdoor gatherings involving “individual training” except for exempted groups.

No matches or events will be allowed to take place, including professional, elite sports, horse-racing and greyhound racing and approved equestrian events. These are only permitted to continue behind closed doors.

Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools should close from close of business on 31st December.

No indoor or outdoor exercise group activities including those involving children should take place.

Golf and Tennis should not proceed. Outdoor playgrounds, play areas and parks to remain open.

18.30

For car dealerships and outlets, all repair and maintenance facilities will remain open as they are classed as essential retail.

But vehicle sales will only be able to operate on a click-and-collect basis with online buying expected to expand in response to the crisis.

It is also expected that it will be possible for cars which were pre-ordered to be delivered or collected.

18.25

Travel: Under Level 5 lockdown restrictions we will again only be able to travel within 5km of our homes.

Schools: Schoolchildren will not return to class until January 11. Schools had been due to return on January 6.

Household visits: Under the restrictions all household visits will be banned from midnight tonight. The only exclusions are people who must visit another home for childcare reasons, for care of the elderly or if they are in a support bubble with one other home.

Retail: All retail will be closed tomorrow but essential stores, such as grocery shops, will remain open.

Funerals/Weddings: Wedding guests will be restricted to six from January 2 onwards while funerals will be restricted to 10 mourners.

Sports: Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will be closed from tomorrow. The restrictions banning group indoor and outdoor sport, remain in place.

Pubs/Restaurants: Pubs and restaurants remain closed but those that can provide takeaway food, will be allowed to do so under the plans.

18.21

"In the week before Christmas, we were seeing about 5pc of tests coming back as Covid-positive," Minister Martin said.

Yesterday, 18pc of those tested were infected with the disease.

“Over the last seven days, more than 8,000 cases have been confirmed. That is a 61pc increase on the previous week.

"This latest surge is different to the second wave. We are seeing rising incidence of the disease across all age groups, especially those aged 19-24 and a very worrying increase among those aged 65 and older.

"During the second wave, there was a long delay between an increase in cases and an increase in hospital admissions.

"This time is very different."

Minister Martin said 454 Covid patients were in hospital this morning.

"That's doubled in a week," he added.

And the reproduction number which shows just how fast the disease is spreading has risen from 1.6 to 1.8.

"The situation is extremely serious, the numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days," he added.

"I’ve always been clear we will do what we need to do when the virus is growing and it's now growing exponentially.

"This is not a time for nuance in our response, we must apply the brakes to movement and we must revert to Level 5 restrictions for a period for one month."

18.20

Here are some of the key pieces of guidance for the new restrictions:

  • Visitors to your home or garden: No visitors except for essential family reasons or those in your support bubble.
  • Domestic travel: Stay at home except for travel for work, education or other essential purposes, or to take exercise within 5km of home.
  • Retail: Essential retail only from close of business on 31 December.
  • Primary and secondary schools: Re-open on 11 January.
  • Work: Work from home unless working in essential health, social care or other essential service that cannot be done from home.
  • Weddings: Maximum of 25 guests up to and including 2 Jan; maximum of 6 guests from 3 Jan.
  • Funerals: Maximum of 10 mourners.

18.17

"On Christmas Eve we received the news the new strain is in our country," Taoiseach Micheál Martin said.

"International research is ongoing but it is very clear we are dealing with a disease spreading quickly...with the disease spreading much faster, the threat of our health system and the risk of death to older populations is obvious and it has become urgent..."

The measures will be in place for at least four weeks but they could be rolled out for longer, depending on the number of cases.

Schools had been due to open on January 6 but they will be closed until January 11, to monitor the situation.

And in a bid to stop any New Year's Eve gatherings, which could lead to further cases, Minister Martin explained the measures had to be taken now.

"From this evening no visitors are permitted in private homes or gardens, unless they are providing care to children, the elderly or as part of a support bubble."

10 people will be able to attend funerals and six can attend weddings.

However, all retail will be closed tomorrow, along with gyms.

"We should stay home for work, education and take exercise at home. All non essential retail and gyms close tomorrow," Mr Martin said.

"All research is schools are safe, the new restrictions will be in place for 10 days (for schools.)" he added.

18.15

Retail Excellence, which represents retailers of all size across the country who collectively employ approximately 280,000 people, expressed “shock and dismay” at the decision of the Government to extend the new Covid-19 restrictions to include non-essential retail outlets.

Duncan Graham, Chief Executive of Retail Excellence, described the move as “a hammer blow to the retail sector”.

“We did everything we were asked to do over the Christmas period. We restricted customer numbers in the run up to Christmas, we managed the post-Christmas period with great care and sensitivity as we were asked to and we paid huge attention to ensuring safety protocols were respected.”

18.07

Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle welcomed “the swift movement by government to delay the reopening of our primary and special schools.”

The INTO had called for the re-opening to be postponed until Monday January 11 at the earliest, because of the “alarming increase” in cases.

“As we set out yesterday, the alarming public health data and concerns expressed in respect of the new Covid-19 variation warrant this approach,” he said.

Mr Boyle said the INTO would “ seek to work constructively with the Department of Education and NPHET to ensure our schools reopen next month and have the necessary supports and protection to stay open safely.”

18.05

Micheál Martin confirms Ireland will move to Level 5 of Covid restrictions.

From midnight all household visits will be banned, aside from those caring for children, the elderly or in social bubbles and schools will be closed until January 11.

Mr Martin said:

“We must protect the lives of those we love, the actions we are taking are saving lives… right now this is what we must do. We must make sure as many of our people as possible are with us to enjoy the brighter days ahead.”

18.00

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD has confirmed the reintroduction of the eviction moratorium from midnight as a result of the return of 5km restrictions on people’s movements.

Minister O’Brien also confirmed that his Department is working on a package to cover commercial rates waivers for affected businesses for Q1 2021 and that construction remains an essential service under these new restrictions.

Commenting the Minister said, “The urgent legislation which we enacted back in October means that any time there is a 5km restriction imposed on people’s movements, in line with public health restrictions, the moratorium on evictions automatically kicks-in.

“This legislation gives tenants clear legal protections by effectively stopping evictions for the period of duration of 5km travel restrictions and by adding a further ten-day grace period to allow people to find new accommodation in the very small number of cases in which this may be necessary.

“While there was some opposition to this targeted and balanced measure back in October it is clear that this legislation, along with the legislation protecting tenants in rent arrears due to Covid-19 and at risk of losing their tenancy which was first enacted back in August and will operate into April 2021, is working to protect those most affected by this pandemic.”

17.30

Ministers are discussing extending the school holidays by a few days amid tough new measures to stem the third wave of coronavirus.

Household visits are expected to be banned from midnight as the Government imposes a full national lockdown until the end of January.

Non-essential retail will have one more day of trading before shops will be asked to close from New Year’s Day under plans being discussed by Cabinet.

Schools are expected to remain closed until January 11. Gyms and leisure centres are also to be asked to close under the new restrictions.

The Level 5 restrictions being debated by Cabinet come against the backdrop of a massive increase in new Covid-19 cases.

An emergency Cabinet meeting was held today to address the rise in cases. Nphet last week urged the Government to close all non-essential retail and gyms over fears that the new strain of the virus from England will spread more rapidly.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will announce the new restrictions once agreed by Cabinet around 6pm.

The closure of schools until January 11 is expected to be announced.

Schools are currently due to reopen next Wednesday, January 6.

Government sources say a delay to the reopening until the following Monday is being considered.

"It is one option being looked at,” a senior Government source said.

However, there is a severe reluctance within the Coalition to disrupt the operation of schools and creches.

Therefore, it is not at all clear if the Cabinet will go with this option.

The 5km travel limit will also return in the lockdown which will last for all of January.

Working from home will again be recommended to all, unless entirely necessary.

Manufacturing and construction work will continue to stay open.

Religious services will be online only and funerals will have a limit of between eight and 10 people.

No indoor events and no outdoor events will be allowed.

Restaurants and pubs serving food will be allowed to offer take-away only.

Meanwhile, flights from the UK will continued to be banned until January 6. However, a limited number of repatriation flights will continue.


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