Cabinet agrees on full April-style lockdown after stark warnings about public health

Cabinet agreed to return to a full April-style lockdown after harsh public health warnings.

Schools will remain closed through January 31st, with the exception of classes for special needs children and Leaving Cert students. Those who take the diploma will go to school three days a week, while the other two days of education will be offered online. Non-essential construction work will cease on Friday from 6:00 p.m., with the exception of essential health and related projects, social housing, grants for adapting living space, and essential repairs, maintenance and construction work on companies and places of residence.

The Taoiseach says that “while all scientific and health evidence shows that schools and childcare facilities remain a safe environment,” the restrictions are intended to serve mobility as there are more than 1 million people in the education sector.

He added that the government wants the Certificate of Completion to be carried out as usual and “will do everything possible to achieve it”.

Childcare is usually closed until the end of the month. However, they can remain open to vulnerable children and children of essential workers.

Micheál Martin says the restrictions are necessary as the country currently has more Covid-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before.

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan at the press conference after the cabinet meeting in government buildings in Dublin yesterday. Image: Julien Behal

“We are fighting the deadly and ever-changing virus,” he said. “The lockdown we are putting in place today is meant to reflect that stark and simple reality. If you are not involved in very important work, you have no reason not to be home and you just have to stay home,” he said.

“Each of us has to remember the victim [of healthcare workers] and find in our hearts the strength and discipline to squat down to stay home, follow the rules, and get this virus under control. “

He added that the new UK strain of the virus is currently in Ireland and can rapidly grow to well beyond previous worst-case scenarios.

Those coming to Ireland from the UK and South Africa are now required to present a negative PCR test within the last 72 hours and present it to border guards or gardaí upon arrival at ports or airports. This is punished with a fine or a possible imprisonment.

It is likely that more countries will be added to this requirement in the coming days.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar reiterated Mr Martin's sharp warning about the coronavirus, saying hospitals could be overwhelmed if people fail to adhere to the lockdown and social distancing.  Image: Julien BehalTánaiste Leo Varadkar reiterated Mr Martin’s sharp warning about the coronavirus, saying hospitals could be overwhelmed if people fail to adhere to the lockdown and social distancing. Image: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar noted that some companies will close “for the last time” due to the new restrictions.

“This is bad and it’s getting worse,” he said.

“January is the month we all stay. We are facing really dark January.

“The third wave – this could be a lot worse than the first – could see our hospitals that weren’t overwhelmed in the first wave … with the serious risk of doing so later this month.”

Mr Varadkar added that the restrictions put in place on December 24th have not yet had any effect, but will.

With immediate effect, click-and-collect services from non-essential retail stores are no longer permitted, only delivery services.

The Cabinet agreed that the Pandemic Unemployment Benefit (PUP) and Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) would remain in place at current rates until at least March 31.

Paschal Donohoe, the finance minister, and Michael Mc Grath, the minister for public spending, are said to be in contact with banks to ensure that people can be relieved of mortgages and loans if they are affected by the lockdown.

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