IRELAND IS to return to lockdown following a sustained rise in coronavirus cases nationwide.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the nation in a live, televised speech last night, following the announcement from the Cabinet that Level 5 restrictions had been agreed for six weeks.
Speaking to everyone in Ireland and those watching from abroad, Mr Martin began by acknowledging "2020 has been a hard year, and we're not through it yet."
"So many of the things that cheer us, and that we took for granted, have been taken from us.
"The reality of this terrible disease is that when we give it opportunities to spread, it spreads. And when it spreads, it consumes large parts of our daily lives and whole sections of the economy."
He added "the Government cannot stop it on its own", and while "many people have done everything that has been asked of them ... some have not".
Mr Martin first explained why a zero-Covid strategy would not work, due in part to Ireland's proximity to Britain and Europe and the open land border with Northern Ireland.
He then explained why Ireland would not be going for a herd immunity approach-- but "this implies that we should accept higher levels of illness and death, and it ignores the deadly long-term effects of the virus on many people".
Rather, Ireland's strategy is to suppress the virus when it is growing and reopening the country as much as possible when it is reducing-- this will continue until a vaccine is found, he added.
"The evidence of a potentially grave situation arising in the weeks ahead is too strong," The Taoiseach said. "Therefore, for a period of six weeks from midnight on Wednesday night the whole country will move to Level 5 of the Framework for Living with COVID-19."
There will be some changes however-- schools will remain open; "This is necessary because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people's futures to be another victim of this disease. They need their education."
He praised the efforts of school staff and administrators, stating "they too are on the frontline in this crisis and they deserve the gratitude of the entire nation."
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment is being restored to €350 a week for those earning €400 or more per week, and a "support bubble" system similar to the UK's will allow a person living alone to mix with one other household; new mental health services will also be rolled out, the Taoiseach promised.
Under the Level 5 restrictions, cafés, restaurants and pubs can serve takeaway food and drink only.
There can be no household visits to home or gardens except for caring purposes or compassionate grounds.
Just 10 people can attend funerals; weddings remain capped at 25 guests.
Only essential retail will remain open-- this includes pharmacies and grocery shops, however hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons will close.
Everyone in the country is asked to stay at home, with exercise permitted with a 5km radius of your home-- and only essential workers can travel to work; those who can work from home must do so.
Construction will also be classed as essential work for this phase of Lockdown, "as we work to tackle the country's homelessness and housing crisis".
"I understand, and I feel very personally and profoundly the sense of disappointment, the feelings of loneliness, perhaps even the despair that this announcement will bring for many," Micheál Martin said,
"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.
"If we pull hard together over the next six weeks, we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.
"Every Christmas is important, but this year it is particularly so. Each of us have our own rituals for Christmas, and they will take on extra poignancy this year as we remember those who didn’t survive 2020.
"Not only those who have been taken by the virus, but also all those others who passed away this yeand didn’t get the wakes and funerals and goodbyes that we as a people are so good at, and which they deserved.
"It won’t be the same Christmas that we have enjoyed in years past, but if we all pull together and follow the spirit of these new rules, it will be a very special time and will give us all some respite from the hardship of the last seven months.
"If each of us does what is asked of us for a period of just six weeks, we will suppress this virus and we will emerge from these restrictions on the 1st December."