Ireland will enter its third lockdown on Christmas Eve, as a range of restrictions take effect between then and the new year in an attempt to control surging levels of Covid-19 infections.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the restrictions on Tuesday in a televised address from the steps of Government Buildings after Cabinet approved the measures.
Later Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that although the decisions would be reviewed in mid-January, people could expect the lockdown to last until early March.
On the current trajectory, case numbers could reach 1,000 a day before Christmas and “perhaps 2,000 a day before New Year’s Eve”, Mr Varadkar added.
There were another 970 new cases of the disease recorded on Tuesday, and a further 13 coronavirus-related deaths.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the current trajectory of the disease in the community was “of grave concern” and warned that inter-generational visiting over Christmas is now extremely risky.
“It is up to each one of us to re-think our plans for this Christmas period, especially when it comes to visiting older or more medically vulnerable family members and friends,” he said.
Under the new restrictions:
- Current household visit rules remain in place until the end of St Stephen’s Day and then reduce to one other household until December 31st
- Travel outside the county is permitted until the end of December 26th. People can travel back at their own pace but no new inter-county travel is allowed after that
- Christmas religious services can take place but move online after December 25th
- Travel restrictions from Britain remain in place until December 31st
- Restaurants and pubs with food close from 3pm on Christmas Eve
- Hairdressers and personal services to close from Christmas Eve
- Non-essential retail can remain open
- Gyms can stay open for individual training. The 5km limit will not be implemented but people are encouraged to exercise close to home
- Restrictions to be reviewed on January 12th
The Government also updated its advice for people who have travelled from Britain to Ireland since December 8th.
The new advice calls on people to self-isolate in their room rather than restricting their movements from the date of arrival into Ireland for 14 days.
This includes people who have had a negative test, the HSE said, as these people could still be developing symptoms and pose a potential risk to others.
In Northern Ireland a further 439 people tested positive for the virus, the region's Department of Health said, with 16 more deaths.
The Executive has issued guidance advising against all but essential travel between the North and the Republic, and between Britain and Northern Ireland, amid concerns over the new strain of Covid-19 in England that led dozens of countries to close their borders to arrivals from the UK.
Aer Lingus has said it will not operate flights from Britain to Ireland while the ban remains in place.
Flights from Ireland to Britain will continue in order to facilitate the repatriation of customers to Great Britain and those with connecting flights in Great Britain.
In a statement, the airline said: “Customers whose flights have been cancelled will be contacted by Aer Lingus directly, and are entitled to a refund, voucher or rerouting at a later date.”