In Depth

Coronavirus: why the Republic of Ireland is going into full national lockdown

The six-week shutdown begins on Wednesday

Ireland is heading back into a complete lockdown after the government in Dublin rejected calls for the country to attempt to reach herd immunity. 

As of Wednesday, non-essential shops will be closed and people will be asked to stay at home, as the republic closes “much of its economy and society in a second Covid-19 lockdown that imposes some of the severest restrictions in Europe”, The Guardian says.

The measures are scheduled to remain in place for six weeks, but will be reviewed after four and adjusted depending on the severity of coronavirus infection rates.

How does Ireland compare to the UK?

The Irish Department of Health yesterday reported 1,031 new cases, taking the total to 50,993. No further coronavirus-related deaths were registered, with the total remaining at 1,852.

The worst-hit areas are “counties bordering Northern Ireland, which has some of the UK’s highest rates”, The Guardian reports. Northern Ireland last week closed pubs and restaurants for four weeks, with schools shutting for two weeks from yesterday, in a bid to curb the outbreaks there.

The UK as a whole recorded 18,804 new cases yesterday, taking the total to 741,000. A further 80 deaths increased the tally of fatalities to 43,726. 

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 sits at 253.7, while 14-day deaths per 100,000 are at 0.9. The respective figures for the UK are 338.6 and 2.

Ireland has its own five-stage plan, published in mid-September, for “living with Covid-19”. The response outlined in the plan ranges from relaxed measures at Level 1 to the most severe restrictions at Level 5.

Dublin’s decision to move Ireland to Level 5 from midnight on Wednesday follows a recommendation from the country’s Public Health Emergency Team, and comes after the coalition government “rejected a similar recommendation less than a fortnight ago”, says the BBC.

‘Grave situation’

In a televised address last night, Taoiseach Michael Martin said that despite having introduced “Europe’s strictest regime”, the restrictions had not been enough to significantly reduce levels of infection in Ireland. 

“The evidence of a potentially grave situation arriving in the weeks ahead is too strong,” Martin said. “While we have slowed the spread of the virus, this has not been enough and further action is now required.” 

The Fianna Fail leader added: “The days are getting shorter and colder but I ask you to remember this - even as the winter comes in, there is hope. And there is light.”

Although Ireland has a lower Covid incidence rate than the UK, its “health service has little spare capacity, especially for intensive care”, The Guardian says. 

Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, called for a Level 5 lockdown in early October, but as with the lockdown doves in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, ministers “rejected the recommendation, citing the damage that it would inflict on the economy and state finance”, the paper adds.

“Billions have been borrowed and spent, the public has grown weary and the solidarity between government and public health officials has frayed,” adds The Irish Times - with the decline in trust also mirrored in the UK

Announcing Ireland’s new restrictions, Martin said that compliance may mean the country can celebrate Christmas “in a meaningful way”. Or as BBC Ireland correspondent Chris Page puts it, Dublin is dangling the “harsh measures with a Christmas carrot”.

What are the new rules?

Residents in Ireland may not travel outside of their own county and are being asked to stay at home unless necessary and to only exercise within five kilometres (three miles) of their home.

Visitors are not allowed to enter each other’s houses, although “there will be the concept of an extended household (or support bubble) for defined categories of individuals to support those at risk of social isolation and/or mental ill-health”, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Care homes visits are banned, except in “critical and compassionate circumstances”.

Meeting up outside with one other household is still permitted and schools, creches and higher education openings will be based on the “situation and evidence at time”. All are currently to remain open, “in line with current National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) advice”, says the newspaper.

Religious services will be held online, but places of worship are staying open for individual prayer.

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