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Covid 19

Gatherings restricted, non-essential shops to shut among new measures in place until April 19

A raft of new restrictions on how we go about our daily lives has been announced as the battle against Covid-19 is stepped up.

The measures are part of the Government’s on-going plan to limit the impact of the deadly virus on workers and employers with more stringent social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than four people are being restricted as part of the tough new measures to combat the virus.

All theatres, gyms, hairdressers, casinos and bingo halls are to close.

Mr Varadkar said social gatherings outdoors are to involve no more than four people unless they’re from the same household.

He said all existing coronavirus measures including the closure of schools will be extended until Sunday April 19.

Mr Varadkar thanked the public for listening to the advice on physical distancing and hand washing so far.

He said “it’s too early to know for sure but we do believe it’s making a difference.

“However we do believe we need to do more.”

He said he was asking people “to stay at home if at all possible.”

Mr Varadkar said people should only leave home to go to work, if they can’t work from home, to get essential supplies and to take physical exercise.

No unnecessary travel is to be taken within the country or overseas, the Taoiseach said.

All non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public, while restaurants and cafes are to limit to takeaway only.

“These are unprecedented actions to an unprecedented time,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We’re in this in for the long haul, and this could go on for weeks,” Varadkar said.

There will be increased patrols by park rangers and the gardaí to make sure physical distancing is being practised in public areas.

Mr Varadkar said new powers will only be used when necessary.

Mr Varadkar said that Ireland recently commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the men and women that won Ireland’s independence.

He said he never believed we would be called upon to match their courage or example but we are now working as a country to respond to this emergency.

He said: “our greatest generation is not in the past” and added “better times are yet to come”.

Emergency welfare payment for workers who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis will increase to €350 per week.

And in a significant new move the Government will also pay 70pc of employee wages up to €410 per week for businesses who are willing to meet the remainder of their staff’s weekly payment.

Last week, the Government introduced the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment which was initially set at €203 per week.

However, the Cabinet today agreed to significantly increase the payment for those who are out of work due the Government’s demand that businesses close during the crisis.

The payment, which is available to employees and self-employed workers who are down income because of the coronavirus, will now increase to €350 per week.

The Government is also planning to announce a new payment for companies whose income has dropped by 25pc but still want to retain their staff.

In these cases, the State will pay 70pc of employee salaries up to €410 per week and the company will be asked to pay the remaining 30pc.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has also proposed a €1.7bn plan in which the State would pay 75pc of wages for three months, up to €40,000 of pay per worker.

Meanwhile, the school and college shutdown is being extended until Monday April 20 at the earliest, but no decision has been taken in relation to the State written exams in June.

The Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams are still scheduled to go ahead as normal, but that could change, depending on the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

In the worst case scenario, schools would not return until end of August/ September, more than five months after closing their doors on March 12.

The extended shutdown leaves little time for post-primary schools, which wrap up by the end of May anyway, to resume in a meaningful way in the current academic year.

The primary school year continues to the end of June, so that offers more latitude for a resumption of classes at the country’s 3,000 primary schools, if circumstances allow.

While the orals and practicals, which were due to start his week, have been cancelled, running the written exams is now the top priority of the Department of Education.

However, if it is too problematic to run all the exams, the Leaving Cert will get priority.

Some 126,000 students are entered for the June exams – 61,053 due to sit the Leaving Cert and 65,190 at Junior Cycle level.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the extension as part of a wider package of measures to restrict the spread of the virus.

The Government is also to introduce emergency legislation to allow retired soldiers re-join the Defence Forces.

The new laws have been in the pipe line for a number of months but are now being fast-tracked as part of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Defence Forces are preparing for a great role in the State’s response to the national health crisis and the legislation will clear the path for retired soldiers to return to service.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe brought an amendment to the Defence Act to Cabinet today ahead of the Dáil holding an emergency sitting on Thursday.

It is unclear how many ex-soldiers will seek to re-join the Defence Forces but there is understood to be some interest among retired security personnel in taking part in the State’s fight against the virus.

The new measures in Ireland come after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told families in the UK, including Northern Ireland, to stay at home except when shopping for basic necessities and to perform one type of exercise a day.

Last night, Johnson ordered the UK public to stay at home to halt the spread of coronavirus, imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.

All but essential shops will close and people should no longer meet family or friends or risk being fined, Johnson said on Monday in a televised address to the nation.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

Irish Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said yesterday that his officials are engaging with their colleagues in Northern Ireland “multiple times a day”.

“The disease does not recognise any border. We need to ensure that the measures we deploy are as coherent and consistent as they can be. We are converging in our approaches to that.

“The measures they are considering in Northern Ireland are measures we will also give consideration to in an ongoing basis,” he added.

Asked to comment on the current number of cases, which rose to 1,125 yesterday, after another jump of 219 new people diagnosed with the virus, he said the Republic remains in the “early stages of the infection” relative to how it may progress.

From The Irish Independent.