Further COVID-19 restrictions announced

  • Deborah Condon

All schools, universities and childcare facilities are to remain closed until April 19, while from midnight tonight, a number of other businesses that are considered "non-essential" are also to close, the Government has confirmed.

In a press conference this afternoon, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, outlined a number of new restrictions which are now being taken to help stop the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

As part of this, all "non-essential" retail businesses are to close, including all gyms, leisure centres, hairdressers, markets, betting shops and theatres. Any essential retail outlets which remain open, such as supermarkets and chemists, must implement social distancing.

All café and restaurants which are still open must limit themselves to take away and deliveries only, and must implement social distancing measures in relation to queueing.

All churches and other places of worship are to restrict the number of people attending.

All holiday centres, caravan parks and playgrounds are to close and hotels are to limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons. All scheduled cruise ship travel will cease, and all sporting events are to be cancelled, including those taking place behind closed doors.

In relation to public transport, people are advised to only use it if absolutely necessary. Transport companies are to apply social distancing measures and limit the number of people using public transport at any one time.

However, the Taoiseach said that some factories and construction sites will remain open and in these cases, "the authorities are available to work with employers and unions on how to make physical distancing effective".

Meanwhile, social gatherings of people outdoors should be limited to no more than four people, unless they are from the same household.

"I am asking you to stay home if at all possible. That is the best way to slow the virus, ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed and buy us the time we need to build more capacity - testing, contact tracing, beds, ventilators.

"You should only leave home to go to work if you can't work from home and your attendance is essential. You should only go to the shops for essential supplies, out for medical or dental appointments, to care for others or to take physical exercise. Non-essential indoor visits to other people's homes should be avoided," the Taoiseach said.

All of these restrictions are set to run until Sunday, April 19. However this date will continue to be reviewed and may be extended further.

"We are in this for long haul. This could go on for weeks or months. No unnecessary travel should take place within the country or overseas, now or over the Easter break," Mr Varadkar reminded people.

In recognition of the fact that so many people have lost their jobs so suddenly, the Government is also raising the COVID Unemployment Payment to €350 a week. This is approximately 75% of average earnings in the sectors most affected. The first payments will be made this Friday.

The COVID Illness Benefit will also increase to €350 per week and can be topped up by employers. This will be paid to people self-isolating.

Furthermore, in order to encourage employers and companies badly affected by this health crisis to keep staff on the payroll, a wage subsidy scheme will be introduced to co-fund 70% of the cost of salaries up to a maximum of €38,000 a year. At a salary of €38,000 the subsidy will equate to €410 a week in take-home pay.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, also confirmed that the State will take control of private hospitals for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. He said that there will be no distinction made between public and private patients who have the virus and all patients will be treated for free.

Speaking at the press conference, Minister Harris acknowledged that this is "all a bit surreal for people", who are being asked to behave "counter-intuitively". However, he added, "Irish people have risen to that challenge".

COVID-19 is spread through close contact with an infected person's body fluids (e.g. droplets from coughing or sneezing), or by touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.

It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of the virus to show. These may include a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and fever (high temperature).

COVID-19 can also cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and severe breathing difficulties. Some 80% of cases will be mild to moderate, 14% will be more severe, while 6% will be critical.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, people should:
-Practice social distancing and avoid crowded places
-Wash their hands properly and often
-Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, or cough and sneeze into their elbow
-Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
-Stay at home if they are sick to avoid spread of whatever infection they have.

For more information on COVID-19, click here.


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