Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced that from midnight on Wednesday the entire country will move to Level 5 of the COVID-19 restrictions for a six-week period. Level 5 is the strictest set of restrictions listed in the ‘Resilience and Recovery: Plan for Living with COVID-19’ framework which was published by the government last month.

Previously, the nation was placed under Level 3 restrictions with border counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan under to Level 4 due to their high incidence rates and the surge of cases in Northern Ireland.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) advised the government to move to Level 5 restrictions a number of weeks ago, however, the government was reluctant to further the economic damage caused by the pandemic. After a series of intense negotiations last week, the measures were finalised at a Cabinet meeting which was held today at 4 pm.

Martin admitted that the framework designed by the Irish government is “probably Europe’s strictest regime”. But he continued that while these restrictions have significantly slowed the growth and spread of the virus, the daily figures have shown they have not been enough to reduce the levels of infection. 

Level 5 is similar to the level of restrictions experienced in March and April as all non-essential businesses will close and social gatherings will be prohibited. People will be asked to stay within a 5 km radius of their homes however, provisions will be made for support bubbles where two households can mix. It is possible to meet with 1 other household in a public outdoor setting, such as a park. 

Other than those working in health, social care, or other essential services people have been asked to work from home. Public transport will be reduced to 25% capacity and people are urged to avoid using it where possible.

Bars, cafés, restaurants and wet pubs can only operate a takeaway or delivery service. Only essential retail outlets such as pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open. All retail and personal services will close. It is understood that a weekly payment of €350 will be given to those who previously earned over €400 per week.

Schools and crèches will remain open during the lockdown and the construction and manufacturing sector will continue to operate. Martin stated that this sector is essential as it is instrumental to combat the homelessness crisis. 

Individual training and exercise will be permitted, however, gyms, swimming pools and other leisure facilities will close. Matches will continue at an elite level with some also taking place for young children. 

Religious services will continue to be held virtually and places of worship will remain open for private prayer. The number of guests allowed to attend weddings will stay at 25 until the end of the year while only 10 mourners are allowed at funeral services.

Martin concluded, “The days are getting shorter and colder, but I ask you to remember: even as the winter comes in there is hope and there is light.”

Emma Hanrahan – Assistant News Editor