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Harshest lockdown measures return as construction shuts



Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

The country is being put back into a full national lockdown with schools to close and most construction work to halt until the end of the month.

The Cabinet today will sign off on the most severe Covid-19 restrictions it has considered since the country was first put in lockdown in March last year.

The move comes against a backdrop of an escalating coronavirus crisis in Ireland with 5,325 new cases and 17 deaths reported yesterday.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned the country is "experiencing a considerable surge in cases and hospitalisations" but added: "We can turn this around quickly if we stick to the measures we know worked last spring."

Last night, the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 agreed to stop the majority of private construction developments. The move will mean some 50,000 construction workers downing tools.

However, essential construction developments such as social housing or schools ­projects will be permitted.

The measures will also see shops told to stop offering click and collect services. They will instead be asked to offer only click and delivery.

The Cabinet Committee also agreed on closing secondary and primary schools until the end of the month. However, the Cabinet will discuss ways to ensure students who attend special schools are not disadvantaged by the new lockdown restrictions.

Measures are being looked at to ensure Leaving Cert pupils are not negatively affected. The summer Leaving Cert exams could be delayed by a few weeks if Covid continues to cause serious problems.

Sources said the Government was adamant that the exams would go ahead.

One issue would be aligning a later release of results and CAO offers with the start of the college year, but results were delayed by three weeks in 2020 which, while an inconvenience, was well managed by the higher education system.

At the December meeting, the State Examinations Commission set out a range of options to the education partners, but the rapid deterioration in Covid infection rates, is presenting further challenges.

Meanwhile, travellers flying into Ireland will soon be required to produce a negative Covid-19 test on arrival.

The new rules will require anyone flying into Ireland to produce a negative PCR test result received within three days before arrival.

The ban on flights and passenger ferries from Britain and South Africa will be extended until midnight on Friday.

From Saturday anyone travelling to Ireland from Britain or South Africa will be required to produce a negative laboratory test received within three days before travel. They will also be required to restrict their movements for 14 days on arrival.

A date has not been yet set for when all travellers flying into Ireland will be required to produce negative test results on arrival.

At a lengthy Cabinet committee meeting, ministers were told a variant of the coronavirus originating in England has been found in 25pc of recent positive cases in Ireland.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also said the new variant is one of the reasons the Government was forced to re-impose restrictions over Christmas.


However, the chair of Nphet's Expert Advisory Group Dr Cillian De Gascun contradicted the Taoiseach's claim.

On Twitter, Dr De Gascun said the variant is "not responsible for the recent significant and concerning increase" in new Covid cases.

He said the variant was only in 10pc of samples tested. Dr de Gascun noted his conclusion was on a small sample of 160 cases.

However, President of the Royal College of Physicians Ireland Mary Horgan said the sample size was too small to make a conclusion.