The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has announced new restrictions to be imposed in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, in response to the recent spread of COVID-19 in the three counties.
Speaking on Friday evening, Mr Martin said that Ireland is "still doing very well by international standards, but over the past week, there have been a number of localised clusters, which are a serious concern".
"We have more information now than we did at the start of this pandemic. We now know how COVID-19 attacks by stealth and we know how fast it moves, so we have to be decisive.
"We can't afford to wait and see. The disease is not waiting. We must protect public health to the greatest extent possible. Everything else is secondary to that and if this requires difficult decisions, than so be it," he said.
The new restrictions mean that people living in Kildare, Offaly and Laois will not be permitted to travel outside of their counties expect in limited circumstances. These are:
-To travel to and from work if they cannot work from home
-For vital family reasons, such as caring for children or the elderly.
-To attend medical appointments, or to collects medicines
-For farming purposes, including care of animals.
Visits to nursing homes will be suspended except on compassionate grounds.
Restaurants and bars serving foods are to close, except in the case of takeaways. Cinemas, gyms, theatres and museums will also close. However, all retail outlets may remain open as long as public health guidelines are followed, including the wearing of face masks.
All indoor gatherings, including private family gatherings, will be restricted to a maximum of six people from no more than three other households. Social distancing should be maintained.
Creches and playgrounds can remain open.
Contact sports should not be played, except in the case of professional and elite athletes.
The restrictions will remain in place for two weeks from midnight on Friday.
The HSE has said it is providing additional resources to support public health teams in the three counties, including additional pop-up testing facilities and isolation facilities for those who cannot self-isolate in their homes.
"We have worked so hard as a people to suppress this virus and we all need to redouble those efforts now, particularly in the three counties worst affected.
"I want to urge everyone to continue to wash their hands, maintain social distance, wear a face covering on public transport and in shops and sign up to the COVID-19 Tracker app," commented HSE chief executive, Paul Reid.
Earlier, the Department of Health confirmed that four more people with COVID-19 had died in the Republic, bringing the total number of cases to 1,772.
A further 98 cases have also been confirmed, bringing the total number to 26,470.
Of the 98 cases, 67 are confirmed to be associated with outbreaks, or are close contacts of a confirmed case.
Meanwhile, the Government has also recommended that teachers and students in secondary schools wear face masks when physical distancing of two metres is not possible.
Schools are due to reopen at the end of this month for the first time since March 12.
The updated recommendations on face masks have been published by the Department of Education following discussions with key stakeholders, including teachers and principals.
The news was welcomed by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI), which had called for the wearing of face masks at second level.
"Schools are working hard to implement the necessary safety arrangements in time for re-opening. Keeping schools open must be the priority, and this means minimising the risk of transmission within classrooms and other learning environments," commented ASTI general secretary, Kieran Christie.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.