DUBLIN (AFP) - Ireland will be the first EU country to return to coronavirus lockdown, prime minister Micheal Martin said Monday (Oct 19), issuing a nationwide "stay at home" order but insisting schools will stay open.
Measures coming into effect for six weeks from midnight on Wednesday (2300 GMT) will see all non-essential retail businesses close and bars and restaurants limited to takeaway service only.
"Everyone in the country is being asked to stay at home," Martin said in a televised national address.
Only essential workers will be "permitted to travel to work", he said, and citizens will be allowed out to exercise only within five kilometres (three miles) of their residence.
The government warned in a statement that "there will be a penalty" for violating the five kilometre restriction.
Martin said schools and childcare facilities are to remain open "because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people's futures to be another victim of this disease."
A ban on visits between different households and indoor events will also be extended, although elite and professional level sports will be permitted to take place behind closed doors.
Martin said Ireland's latest restrictions were "probably Europe's strictest regime" but that "further action is now required".
"If we pull together over the next six weeks, we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way," he said.
With a population of 4.9 million, Ireland is struggling to contain a resurgence of virus as the winter months approach. Its 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 of population has surged to about 240 from 88 at the start of October.
Daily deaths peaked at 77 in April and in recent weeks have consistently remained in the single digits. No new deaths were recorded on Monday. The death toll remained at 1,872.
However, health officials reported 1,031 new cases on Monday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 50,993.
Though the infection rate there is lower than those of the worse affected countries like Britain, France and Spain, Ireland's health service doesn't have the capacity to cope with a high number of Covid-19 cases, especially for intensive care, The Guardian reported.