Ireland announces strict six-week lockdown as Covid-19 cases rise

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Ireland will be the first EU country to return to coronavirus lock-in, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Monday, issuing a nationwide order to “stay home” but insisted schools will remain open.

Measures taking effect in Ireland for six weeks from midnight on Wednesday mean all non-essential retail outlets are closing and pubs and restaurants are limited to pick-up or drop-off only.

“Everyone in the country is being asked to stay home,” the prime minister said in a televised national address.

Only important workers are “allowed to travel to work,” he said, and citizens are only allowed to train within five kilometers (three miles) of their residence.

The government warned in a statement that “there will be a penalty” for violating the five-kilometer restriction and that public transport only operates with 25 percent capacity to serve only important workers.

Martin said schools and childcare facilities should remain open “because we cannot and will not let the future of our children and young people be another victim of this disease”.

A ban on visits between different households and indoor events will also be extended, although two households will be allowed to mingle at outdoor venues such as parks.

A “social bubble” program will also allow those living alone, at risk of social isolation or mental health problems, to mingle with another household.

And unlike the previous shutdown order issued in March, elite and professional sports are allowed behind closed doors across Ireland – which has suffered 1,852 coronavirus deaths.

‘Saving Christmas’

Martin said the republic’s current restrictions were “probably Europe’s strictest regime” but that “further action is needed now”.

“If we go together over the next six weeks, we have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way,” he said.

The lobby group Retail Ireland predicted “tens of thousands of retail workers will be out of work” in the meantime.

“It is crucial that these measures work and we are in a place to reopen retail before Christmas,” warned Director Arnold Dillon.

“We simply cannot consider serious rolling restrictions in the future.”

Martin said the government’s goal was to move from level 5 restrictions back to level 3 by December 1st. It will allow all retailers to reopen and restaurants can serve 15 customers outdoors. Even then, another lockdown could not be ruled out in 2021, he added.

23/21. Ireland is facing a worrying rise in its # COVID19 epidemic activity, which will continue to rise at high levels with rising low to medium mortality levels for a further 7 days. The country has decided again to full lock for two weeks from Thursday. pic.twitter.com/SUppEkOrC9

– Antoine FLAHAULT (@FLAHAULT) October 20, 2020

Ireland has generally taken a cautious stance in the fight against the fight against coronavirus.

There are currently no “green” countries on the country’s register of safe travel destinations, and the government adopted pub closures called “Europe’s longest”.

But Dublin’s decision to bring the nation back to lockdown comes two weeks after the government rejected a similar recommendation from public health chiefs.

At the time, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the advice to take the country to a four-week shutdown “had not been thought through”.

The coalition government’s admission that a longer six-week shutdown is now needed could leave it vulnerable to allegations that it stopped the public health response to the rising virus.

Daily coronavirus deaths in Ireland peaked at 77 in April and have in recent weeks been consistently in the individual digits, with no recorded Monday.

Like many other nations, however, the republic is witnessing a resurgence of confirmed infections by the virus, with 1,031 new cases recorded Monday.

While countries struggling with high rates of infection such as Belgium, the Netherlands and France have closed bars, restaurants and imposed a curfew, no one has such strict travel restrictions within the country as Ireland.

Welsh ‘fire’

Last week, Northern Ireland was hit harder by closed schools for two weeks and restaurants for four, although most retailers remain open. In Wales, people have been asked to stay home in a two-week “fire-break” lockout announced on Monday.

Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said on Monday that his administration supported a short, sharp “fire” to slow the spread of Covid-19. All non-essential business, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses close for two weeks starting at 18.00 Friday – a lock-in similar to the British measures introduced in March.

We are all tired of coronavirus and want this pandemic to end, but right now we only have a small window of opportunity to act.

A fire break is currently our best chance to regain control of the virus. This is the time to meet again to protect our NHS and save lives. pic.twitter.com/x42lhCSxjm

– Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) October 19, 2020

“This is the moment to come together to play our part in a concerted effort to do all we can together to protect (National Health Service) and save lives,” Drakeford said.

Drakeford said the Welsh shutdown will definitely end on November 9. “The benefit will be seen in the coming weeks,” Drakeford said.

Meanwhile, the continent, Belgium – where hospital admissions rose 100 percent just last week – closed bars and restaurants on Monday for a month, reinforcing an overnight curfew.

Italy, the initial epicenter of Europe’s eruption, also announced new curbs including previous closures for bars and restaurants and a push to increase work from home.

France imposed its own curfew over the weekend in nine cities including Paris, affecting 20 million people, and 32,400 new infections were reported on Saturday.

Slovenia followed suit with its approximately two million inhabitants forced to stay home between 1 p.m. 21 and at 6 from Tuesday and prohibited from non-essential travel.

Europe passed the milestone with 250,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Sunday, according to an AFP statement.

( Jowharwith AFP, AP and REUTERS)