Ireland imposes new virus curbs over Christmas

Ireland on Tuesday announced fresh coronavirus restrictions from Christmas until January 12 to curb the spread of new infections.

In a televised address, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said his government had chosen to reintroduce the highest level of restrictions, level five, following an “extraordinary growth” in the virus.

Under the measures, families will be asked to stay at home, with some specific exceptions, over the festive period. 

Non-essential shops will be allowed to stay open, though the January sales will be postponed. Schools will also remain open. 

Martin said the a current daily virus growth rate of “approximately 10 percent” was “obviously a source of serious concern, and is simply not sustainable”.

He explained there was no “firm evidence” that a new strain of the virus which has spread in the south of England had reached Ireland. But he added that the high growth rate in the country meant the “most responsible thing to do is to proceed on the assumption that it is already here”.

Under the special measures, the new restrictions will be imposed from Christmas Eve, December 24, until 12 January. 

Individuals will be permitted to go beyond county borders until December 26 but not after.

Only two households will be allowed to mix from 27 December and hairdressers, restaurants and pubs that serve food must all also close on December 24. The pubs that don’t serve food have already been closed for months.

At a press conference, Martin also announced an extension of Ireland’s air travel ban on travellers from Britain, due to the discovery there of a new strain of the virus.

Dublin extended the restrictions despite an EU recommendation that member states allow essential travel to resume. Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the decision had been made “to judge the health issue” and that there had been “an imperative to act”.

Asked whether he was happy to contradict Brussels over the ban fro the next nine days, Martin said yes.

In spite of the new restrictions, which will put extra pressure particularly on the Irish hospitality sector during the lucrative Christmas period, Martin sought to sound a note of optimism.

“As despondent as any of us might feel with the return of restrictions. It is important to remember that the hope is real, there is light at the end of this tunnel,” he said.

The Irish Prime Minister said he had confirmed the arrival of 10,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine, with the rollout of the shot for the most vulnerable to begin next week.

“I am certain that our vaccination programme would bring us greater freedom,” he said.

Ireland, which has nearly five million inhabitants, has recorded 2,158 deaths since the start of the pandemic from a total of 80,267 cases, according to figures released on Monday.