The country will be in lockdown until March 5 (Picture: PA/Reuters)
Ireland’s is extending its coronavirus lockdown by several weeks and strengthening its border rule.
Premier Micheal Martin said the restrictions are having a positive impact, with case numbers dropping but warned that that the country cannot give the new variants a chance to re-emerge. Schools are set to return in a phased reopening from next month.
The extension until March 5 came as the country’s death toll passed 3,000 on Tuesday, when an additional 90 Covid-linked deaths brought the total number of fatalities to 3,066.
Ireland is also introducing new travel measures in an effort to stop new variants being brought to the country. That includes mandatory quarantine at a designated facility for people who arrive in Ireland without a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours. Travellers that arrive without a negative result could also face a €2,500 fine or a six-month prison sentence.
Visa-free short-term travel from South Africa and South America is also suspended until at least March 5.
The moves are a dramatic shift from the previous policy of voluntary self-isolation.
Mr Martin said: ‘These regulations will apply to anyone who travels into Ireland, from an airport or port on the island, including ports and airports in Northern Ireland.
A man walks past a boarded up camera shop on Camden Street in Dublin city centre ahead of new restrictions being announced (Picture: PA)
‘The message to people, for the next six weeks is very simple. Stay at home. Do not travel. Do not make any journeys outside of your five kilometres, unless you absolutely have to. Hold firm and stick to the basics.’
Extra police will patrol airports and ports and anyone who is found breaching travel restrictions will face increased fines.
The current fine is €100, however it is set to increase to no more than €500.
But there was better news on case rates, with 928 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours – the first time the measure has dropped below 1,000 in more than a month.
Warning against complacency, Mr Martin continued: ‘The Government has decided to to extend all of the current Level 5 restrictions until March 5, with a view to crushing the numbers of those contracting the disease, and in turn the numbers needing hospitalisation and intensive care.’
The restrictions are to remain in place to enable a phased reopening of schools across February and March, starting with children with special educational needs.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said it was reasonable to think a phased reopening of schools can take place in February and March.
He said: ‘At the moment the case numbers are falling by about seven or eight per cent a day.
‘It’s halving roughly every 10 days, so it is reasonable to project that in ten days time, if we all keep doing what we’re doing, we could be down to our around 600 cases a day and maybe in 20 days time half that again.
‘That’s optimistic but it is our current trajectory. So if we keep doing these things, then we’ll have case numbers down to a level much lower than they were when schools were open.
‘I think that does allow the prospect of a safe reopening of schools on a phased basis across February and March, starting with children with special needs, then potential moving on to other groups.’
He added that the travel measures were necessary for the time being.
‘In some cases, that’ll be mandatory quarantine and hotel.
‘It will be mandatory, not advisory, for the first time.
‘When it comes to March and April, when we fervently hope cases will be very low again, that’s where the issue of international travel becomes all the more important.
‘If we do, as a society, succeed in getting cases very low again, we want to make sure that we do everything reasonable to stop cases coming back up again.
Mr Martin also said he does not believe a zero-Covid strategy is ‘possible or sustainable’.
‘That said, the very strong policy of suppression of the virus, in my view, can be effective, particularly with the level of vaccination’, he added.
It comes as the number of patients in Irish hospital with Covid-19 remains sky high, with more than double the number compared with the first wave last year.
The number of hospital staff currently off because of coronavirus is also significant across the health service, while hundreds of nurses have been redeployed to intensive care.
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