Full level 5 lockdown and what it means for you: Taoiseach’s statement in full
The Government has announced a ban on all household visits, placed a 5km limit on travel and ordered the closure of non-essential retail.
Schools will also remain closed until January 11 as the country moved to full Level 5 restrictions this evening.
Households visits will be banned, apart from exceptional circumstances, from midnight tonight, under plans agreed by ministers at a hastily arranged Cabinet meeting today.
The tougher restrictions were agreed at the second Cabinet meeting in three days amid growing concern about soaring levels of the virus and a spike in people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. This evening it was confirmed that 13 more people have died and a further 1,718 infected after contracting the coronavirus.
In a statement released this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “Just eight days ago, I stood here and explained why we needed to introduce a range of strict new controls in the effort to curb this latest wave of Covid infections. I explained that while we didn’t, at that stage, have evidence that the new, more virulent strain of Covid was in our country, the safest and most responsible thing to do was to proceed on the assumption that it was already here.
“Unfortunately, that fear proved to be correct. On Christmas Eve, we received the news we had feared – confirmation that the new strain is indeed in our country.
“While international research into this new variant is ongoing, it is already very clear that we are dealing with a strain of the disease that spreads much, much more quickly. Indeed, it is spreading at a rate that has surpassed the most pessimistic models available to us.
“With the disease spreading much faster, the threat of our health system being overwhelmed and the risk of increased sickness and death among our vulnerable and older populations is obvious. And it has become urgent. In the week before Christmas, we were seeing about 5% of tests coming back as Covid-positive. Yesterday, 18% of those tested were infected with the disease. Over the last seven days, more than 8,000 cases have been confirmed. That is a 61% increase on the previous week.
The Taoiseach added: “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. We are already seeing a sharp rise in the number of hospital admissions. This morning, there were 454 Covid patients in hospital. It has almost doubled in a week.
“The Reproduction number is currently estimated at between 1.6 and 1.8. The situation is extremely serious. The numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days. As we have navigated the different phases of this crisis together, I have always been clear that we will do what we need to do to suppress the virus when it is growing; and it is now growing exponentially.
“The truth is, that with the presence of the new strain and the pace of growth, this is not a time for nuance in our response.
“We must apply the brakes to movement and physical interaction across the country. We must return to full scale, Level 5 restrictions for a period of at least one month.”