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Severe restrictions return as Taoiseach warns of ‘truly enormous damage if we let our guard down’

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Severe restrictions as seen in the first wave of Coronavirus have returned following a concerning increase in the spread of the virus.

Following a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday, it was agreed to close schools from Monday due to rising COVID-19 infections, Leaving Certificate students are an exception to this and will be allowed to attend school three days a week. The Government remain determined that the traditional Leaving Cert exams will proceed in June.

Special schools and classes will also remain open. Online learning will be applicable for other classes and year-groups.

Non-essential construction projects will stop at 6pm on Friday evening. Work on social housing that is nearly completion will be permitted, but only if it satisfies set criteria. Large infrastructure projects and large school building projects can continue. Health projects specific to Covid-19, housing adaption grants, and critical maintenance for rail, roads and utility projects are also exempt. Emergency maintenance or repair work by plumbers, electricians and gas workers are permitted.

Essential workers would be allowed to form a bubble with another household in order to provide childcare if they do not have an existing arrangement, under plans discussed by the Cabinet. Childcare services, including regulated childminders and other childcare arrangements, will be permitted to continue to provide services but only for vulnerable children and children of essential workers.

Click and collect services for non-essential retail are to be replaced by delivery. The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) will remain untouched until the end of March. Cuts announced in February to the PUP will not go ahead, the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe (FG) confirmed.

A travel ban for passengers from Britain and South Africa has been extended until Saturday.

Speaking on Wednesday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly (FF) said everything remained focused around one message which was to “stay home”.

At a press briefing earlier this week, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan revealed, “we haven’t been as concerned at any point in the pandemic as we are right now”. Current levels of infection are unsustainable as “it puts people in funeral homes,” he commented.

Daily counts of COVID-19 are “significantly in excess” of the first and second wave, the Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan stated. “We are seeing numbers which I have never anticipated that I would have to report on,” he admitted. Just over 3,000 cases per day on average were reported from December 28th to January 4th.

Healthcare workers are facing “a tsunami” of new cases, Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) stated when announcing the new measures. “We are in a battle against an ever-changing virus… the lockdown we are introducing today is reflecting that stark and essential reality”.

The Taoiseach warned “truly enormous damage can be done if we let down our guard against our virus in any way in the time ahead”. The Tanáiste Leo Varadkar (FG) stated, “January is the month in which we all stay in”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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