DUBLIN – People are to stop socializing in each other’s homes for several weeks under new pandemic restrictions announced by the Irish government on Wednesday.
The Cabinet took action in an emergency session after public health chiefs warned the rate of COVID-19 infections was rising much faster than during the first and second waves of the disease in the country. Some measures, although immediately intended to discourage “super-spreader” parties on New Year’s Eve, could last until February pending the roll-out of a national vaccination program.
Ministers decided to postpone the reopening of schools for a week until January 11 and to extend the ban on air flights and passenger ferries from Britain until at least January 6.
Non-essential outlets that were allowed to reopen in early December after a six-week lockdown are to close again on New Years Eve. People are to stay within 3 miles of their homes and stay away from each other’s residences. others until the end of January at least.
Prime Minister Micheál Martin has said that Britain’s most virulent strain of the virus, confirmed to have arrived in Ireland on Christmas Eve, “is spreading at a rate that exceeds the most pessimistic models available to us” and increases “the risk of our health service. being overwhelmed.”
“The truth is, with the presence of the new strain and the pace of growth, now is not the time to qualify our response. We need to curb movement and physical interactions across the country … for at least a month, ”Martin said in a televised address to the nation.
The number of new confirmed cases in a single day rose to 1,700 for the first time as Paul Reid, head of the Health Service Executive, warned that “an unprecedented and toxic combination” of strengths – including recklessness from Christmas – spread the disease in Ireland. He said tracers had recorded several cases of infected people having close contact with 20 to 30 other people during the holidays.
Ireland’s spike, common in European countries that has relaxed restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, reflects the government’s decision to allow restaurants and pubs serving food to reopen on December 4. They were ordered to close again on Christmas Eve as cases of COVID-19 increased. .
Public health officials had opposed the easing, rightly predicting that people who dined and drank in social circles would spill across Ireland in the week leading up to Christmas to meet relatives from multiple households.
Reid said the nation of nearly 5 million people should cancel New Year’s gatherings and stay in their own homes.
“We are all at extremely high risk, in all parts of the country, of being infected with the COVID virus. Transmission levels are at a worrying level, ”Reid said at a press conference in Dublin. “We need everyone to react immediately and urgently. Remove yourself from all activities planned to meet the family for the New Year. Protect yourself. “
The infection rate is much higher in the neighboring UK region of Northern Ireland, which began its own six-week lockdown on Boxing Day.
Authorities in Northern Ireland on Wednesday reported 2,143 more cases, triple the infection rate in the much larger Republic of Ireland. Its counties with the worst infection rates today – Donegal, Louth and Monaghan – all border Northern Ireland.