Coronavirus: Ireland’s PM announces six-week of restrictions, but warns full lockdown ‘is not a realistic option’

Ireland’s prime minister has confirmed that the country will return to the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Wednesday.

Micheal Martin warned that the evidence of a potentially grave situation in the weeks ahead was now “too strong” to ignore.

He asked everybody in Ireland to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously – and stressed that a “herd immunity” approach was not possible.

However, Mr Martin added that a full lockdown is “simply not a realistic option”, meaning that some exemptions to the country’s Level 5 restrictions will be made.

Although non-essential shops will be forced to close, and bars and restaurants will only be able to operate on a takeaway-only basis, schools and childcare facilities will be allowed to remain open.

Ireland’s leader also said that it is essential that the construction industry is allowed to continue, and he confirmed that most manufacturing sites will also remain open.

“Even as the winter comes in, there is hope, and there is light. If we pull together over the next six weeks, we will have the chance to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way,” Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach vowed to extend financial support for individuals and businesses – and to prioritise the rollout of mental health services.

“We must persevere and we must be resilient,” Mr Martin said. “We will suppress this virus and we will emerge from these restrictions on 1 December.”

Analysis: By Ireland correspondent Stephen Murphy

Just two weeks ago, the Irish government rejected expert advice to move to Level 5 restrictions. That now looks like a bad error in judgement.

In the past fortnight, the surge in Irish Covid-19 cases has gathered pace with frightening speed. In the last week, the record for daily cases in Ireland has been broken four times.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had no choice but to again urge the government to go to Level 5 – but now for a longer period of six weeks. This time, the government has acquiesced.

Parallels are inevitably being drawn with Ireland’s harsh lockdown of the spring. But the new restrictions differ in their scope, with schools to be kept open and protections for industries like construction.

It’s not quite as bad as the first lockdown, and the Irish government certainly won’t use the word, but try telling a weary public that as the winter kicks in, and families are kept apart, businesses go to the wall, unemployment soars and people are kept to a 5km radius of home on pain of being fined.

If it looks like a lockdown and talks like a lockdown, the odds are… it’s another lockdown.

Will it be worth it? Well, the government has been forced to take this drastic step due to those soaring case numbers, as well as the growing pressure on the health system, at a time of the year when it comes under immense strain at the best of times.

The public, for the most part, can see the rationale behind this move. What it wants now is a cogent, and well-communicated, exit strategy. There has to be an end in sight.

And the question will linger for Micheal Martin’s government: If they had taken the expert advice a fortnight ago, could this have been avoided?

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