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lockdown latest Taoiseach warns rising Covid case numbers will 'deteriorate further over the coming days'

Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night confirmed Level 5 restrictions – but vowed that Ireland will survive dark times by ensuring “our people are still with us to enjoy better, brighter days ahead”.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

The new year will begin with at least a month of restrictive lockdown in a bid to crush the comeback of the coronavirus and buy vital time to vaccinate vulnerable groups.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed Level 5 restrictions – but vowed that Ireland will survive dark times by ensuring “our people are still with us to enjoy better, brighter days ahead”.

Mr Martin promised Ireland’s sacrifice in “the depth of winter” and at the dawn of another year would be worthwhile.

“We will rebuild society,” Mr Martin said. “We will come to terms with this crisis and make sense of the trauma we’ve all been through in due course.

“We will do all these things and start them in the coming year because the vaccine exists but right now, we must stay at home and eliminate contacts, to make sure as many of our people as possible are still with us to enjoy the better, brighter days that are up ahead.”

The strictest societal controls since March were locked in place, as the country prepared to mark one of the toughest New Year’s Eves in history.

For a second day in a row record Covid-19 cases had been recorded. Yesterday 1,718 fresh cases were confirmed and 13 deaths highlighted.

Rising case numbers will “deteriorate further over the coming days”, the Taoiseach warned as he announced the new measures.

This will include a ban on visitors in private homes or gardens unless they are providing care to children or the elderly or vulnerable or part of a support bubble.

No social or family gatherings in any setting will be permitted, with an exemption for weddings with up to six guests, and funerals with up to 10 mourners.

Mr Martin urged the public to remain at home, apart from essential purposes.

Exercise is permitted within 5km of home, while all non-­essential retail and gyms will shut their doors at close of business tonight.

Meanwhile, schools will not reopen until January 11, extending the Christmas break by three days.

Mr Martin vowed there would be no extended closure of schools, but the other Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until midnight on January 31 at least.

Mr Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan suggested there might be scope for some easing of restrictions at the end of January.

But outlining a strategy of “delay and vaccinate”, all three leaders suggested it could be into next summer before there will be significant easing of lockdown rules.

The rising level of concern reflects pressure on the testing and tracing system and the pressures on the health system that January could bring.

Fast-spreading new strains of the virus in Britain and South Africa have prompted a travel ban until at least January 6.

However, a combination of the new strain and increased socialising over Christmas means the spread of the virus is already causing alarm.

Mr Martin said: “In the last seven days there have been 7,000 cases – that’s a 61pc increase on the previous week.

“This is different to the second wave, we’re seeing all ages, from 19 to 24 and a worrying increase in those 65 and over.”

The reproduction number, which shows just how fast the disease is spreading, has risen to 1.8.

“The situation is extremely serious, the numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days,” Mr Martin said.

“I’ve always been clear we will do what we need to do when the virus is growing and it’s now growing exponentially.

“This is not a time for nuance in our response. We must apply the brakes to movement.”

Meanwhile vaccinations of nursing home residents and staff will begin a week earlier than planned.

From Monday, vaccines will be administered in two Dublin facilities – Raheny Nursing Unit and Hollybrook Lodge. Further vaccines will be administered in nursing homes across the country on January 7 and 8.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive officer of Nursing Homes Ireland, called the decision to commence on January 4, a week earlier than originally scheduled on January 11, a “welcome and positive step”.

The deep economic and psychological toll of the pandemic has also been laid bare.

An additional 90,000 workers have been added to the numbers claiming Covid-19 welfare.

Some 50,000 additional workers had been placed on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) after the catering sector was forced to close on Christmas Eve.

Mr Martin said he believed the closure of non-essential retail and gyms would result in another 40,000 workers being forced onto welfare.

Additional funds would be released via the European Central Bank, the €1.8trn EU seven-year budget and special Covid recovery fund.

Mr Martin defended the original decision in late November to ease the lockdown restrictions to Level 3 at the start of this month.

He said it was meant as an effort to allow people who obeyed the rules to have “a good Christmas and New Year” but the arrival of the new variant of Covid-19 changed all that.

“The new variant is having an extraordinary impact on the growth rates.

“This is an event that happens once in 100 years,” the Taoiseach said in reference to the scale of the ­pandemic.


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