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Ireland faces cycle of rolling Covid-19 restrictions, Taoiseach tells Dail

The entire country will be placed under the highest level of restrictions from midnight on Wednesday for six weeks.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin, as he announced the country would be placed under level 5 Covid-19 restrictions for six weeks in bid to halt the spread of the virus (Julien Behal Photography / PA Wire)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin, as he announced the country would be placed under level 5 Covid-19 restrictions for six weeks in bid to halt the spread of the virus (Julien Behal Photography / PA Wire)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin at Government Buildings in Dublin, as he announced the country would be placed under level 5 Covid-19 restrictions for six weeks in bid to halt the spread of the virus (Julien Behal Photography / PA Wire)

The Taoiseach has said he foresees a cycle of rolling level Covid-19 restrictions as the country tries to halt the spread of the virus.

Micheal Martin said he recognised that the introduction of level five restrictions would create a “lot of anxiety and difficulties” for workers and would come as a “huge blow” for people, in particular business owners who have been endeavouring to save their livelihoods since the last lockdown.

On Monday, ministers agreed to impose the highest level of restrictions under the Government’s five-tier plan from midnight on Wednesday for six weeks in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I’m just being very candid with the Oireachtas, I do foresee a period where you have periods of higher level restrictions, followed by lower level restrictions, and if necessary, followed by higher level restrictions again if the virus continues (and) spreads during the reopening phase,” Mr Martin told the Dail.

The Taoiseach said the measures were “necessary” because the “virus thrives on congregation”.

“Where large crowds gather together the virus spreads,” he said.

“That’s the fundamental truth and therefore we have to avoid large crowds gathering in any context and moving and engaging.”

“Protection of public health is paramount,” he added.

A further 13 deaths due to Covid-19 were confirmed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday.

An additional 1,269 cases of the virus were also reported.

Mr Martin also told the Dail that it would be “very challenging” to achieve the National Public Health Emergency Team’s target of reducing the Covid-19 reproductive number to 0.5, by the end of the six weeks of level five restrictions.

But the aim he said was to get the “trajectory going downwards” to a point where the R number was “well below one”.

The Taoiseach was responding to Labour’s Alan Kelly who called on the Government to publish “metric and measurements” of what the Government needed to achieve before returning the country to level three or level two.

“It’s about giving people hope,” Mr Kelly said.

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On Monday the Taoiseach said he expected the country would have to live with Covid-19 for the “entirety of 2021”.

Earlier, Labour leader Alan Kelly said the introduction of rapid testing for Covid-19 would be a significant “game-changer” especially if carried out in schools, sports organisations and other social and work settings.

Mr Martin’s comments in the Dail come as ministers were urged to clarify guidance on “social bubbles” which limits them to people who have “mental health challenges”.

As part of its second lockdown strategy, the Government said it would introduce the concept to ease isolation issues.

The single household bubbles are designed to ease loneliness.

However, in guidance published on Tuesday, the Government limited the bubbles to those who live alone and have “mental health challenges”.

Others permitted to form a bubble include single parents, those who are sharing parenting or custody arrangements, those who live with a partner who has dementia, and those who live alone but have a carer.

Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan, who mooted the idea recently, queried why an individual has to have a mental health challenge to qualify for the measure.

“Research into social bubbling is that it is a way of decreasing our isolation and loneliness, but not contributing to the spread of the virus,” she said.

“A lot of people aren’t going to necessarily want to define themselves as having mental health challenges and I think the Government needs to clarify that people who are in single households can bubble with other people in another single household.”

The countrywide restrictions will come into force from midnight on Wednesday and last until December 1.

Once they are adopted the Irish people will be living under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.

It comes amid a record number of cases recorded over recent weeks.

Under the new restrictions, schools and creches will remain open.

No social or family gatherings will be allowed in homes or gardens, but visits on compassionate grounds and for caring purposes can continue.

Attendance at weddings will be maintained at 25 guests.

Restaurants, cafes and bars will be permitted to provide takeaway services only.

Only essential retail may remain open.

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