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Explainer: The biggest changes as the government tightens restrictions at 'critical moment'

A whole range of significant measures were introduced today.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan in the foreground in front the Taoiseach and Health Minister.
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan in the foreground in front the Taoiseach and Health Minister.
Image: Julien Behal

THERE IS LITTLE doubt that today was a significant day in Ireland’s Covid-19 experience. As Taoiseach Micheál Martin put it, the country is “at another critical moment”.

Simply put, Ireland’s instances of Covid-19 are too high right now and the government has responded with a suite of new public health measures.

In terms of cases, 190 new cases were announced today, meaning we now have a five-day rolling average of 116.

Ireland’s 14-day cumulative cases per 100,000 of population is now at 26, higher than places such as the UK and Portugal. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said this evening that this number is among the fastest growing in the EU.

In an briefing from Government Buildings earlier that took place almost three hours later than scheduled, the Taoiseach said the “harsh reality” was that upward trend in the virus here was “very serious”.

“Until there is a vaccine, we have to keep our guard up. We have to suppress the virus in order to progress further as an economy and as a society,” he said.

As a result, Martin said the government was “significantly tightening key restrictions” until 13 September.

So what are the big changes?

Social/family visits

Home visits, whether they are indoor or outdoor, should see a maximum of six visitors from no more than three other households visit a home.

These restrictions apply to social and family visits, with the government saying they are in place “to allow for physical distancing of two metres and for adequate ventilation if they are taking place indoors”.

The limit of six people does not include those living at the home.

Other gatherings

Separate measures also place limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings outside household settings.

Indoors, such as at an exercise class, no more than six people from three households should meet. Outdoor gatherings should be limited to 15 people.

These changes represent a reduction from 50 and 200 respectfully.

There are exemptions for weddings, at which 50 people will be still allowed attend. The government has said that the situation relating to weddings will be reviewed.

Restaurants

Restaurants and cafes, including pubs operating as restaurants, will remain open but must close at 11.30pm. This is actually an extension of 30 minutes on the previous rule.

The limits on gatherings do not apply to retail settings, where social distancing will remain.

Pubs

The re-opening of pubs that don’t serve food will be considered again this month, but no changes were announced today.

The current guidance on so-called ‘wet pubs’ remains in place, but Martin told reporters that the issue would be revisited before the end of the month.

Sport

In a decision that has provoked anger and confusion from sporting organisations, the government has said that all sporting matches and events must take place behind closed doors.

Gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools and studios will stay open but indoor exercise and dance classes are limited to six people.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) says the outdoor guidance of 15 people also applies to training.

Elders

People aged over 70 and those at greater risk of serious illness are being advised to “exercise individual judgement to limit their interactions to a small network for short periods”.

That same group is also being asked to avoid crowded settings, reconsider staycations, and shop during designated hours.

Alone, the organisation which supports older people, said it appreciates that the measures announced today seek to protect older people from contracting the virus.

Alone has called on the government and Nphet to “start putting plans in place for the winter months”.

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Avoid public transport (again)

The public are again being urged to avoid public transport, and only use it if absolutely necessary.

There is also new advice on wearing a face covering when travelling in a car with someone from another household.

Enhanced garda powers

Gardaí will have an increased ability to police these new measures.

The exact nature of this is still being ironed out but the Taoiseach said they could include powers for gardaí to close pubs.

“We do need immediate sanctions where there’s a clear breach of the public health measures because that clearly has a ripple effect across the wider community,” the Taoiseach said.

- With reporting by Nicky Ryan

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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