Tighter restrictions have come into force in Dublin in response to growing concern over the spread of coronavirus.
The Irish government from midnight on Friday moved the capital to “risk level three” restrictions in its COVID-19 response plan.
This means that indoor restaurant dining is now banned once again in Dublin – and residents are being advised against all non-essential travel.
Indoor visits are only allowed between one other household, most sporting events will be cancelled, and attendance at weddings and funerals is going to be capped at 25 guests from Monday.
It is a big setback for Ireland, which was already one of the slowest countries in Europe to emerge from lockdown – however, more relaxed measures remain in place outside the capital.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin said that, despite the best efforts of Dubliners, the city is now in a “very dangerous place” – meaning there is a real risk that it could return “to the worst days of this crisis”.
At a news conference, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “I know some people may not want to believe it – many of us don’t want to believe it – but this is getting serious again.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of COVID cases confirmed in Ireland – particularly though not exclusively in the Dublin area, where the number of new cases has trebled in the past two weeks.”
Mr Varadkar said the rise was not just down to increased testing, as the positivity rate has “gone up considerably” and is now well above 2%.
Dr Ronan Glynn, Ireland’s acting chief medical officer, warned that the number of people in hospital has risen substantially since last month – as well as infections among people over the age of 65.
He also revealed that the R number in Ireland is now estimated to be between 1.3 and 1.7. This means that, on average, 10 people with COVID-19 will infect 13 to 17 others.
“If we do not interrupt transmission now, we are concerned we could have upwards of 1,000 cases per day by the middle of October – at least half of which would be in Dublin,” Dr Glynn said.
He stressed that such an outcome doesn’t have to be inevitable – and said that if everyone in Ireland cuts their social contacts by half, the R number can be halved too.
Dr Glynn also stressed that there is no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus has changed. This means Ireland could face a repeat of the early stages of the pandemic unless infection rates are brought under control.
In a message to businesses, Mr Varadkar stressed that companies in the capital will be given support – and he acknowledged that some people have now been laid off for the second in time in a year.
He said that affected employees will be able to get their wages subsidised by the government adding: “This isn’t your fault. Unfortunately, this is the virus’s fault, not anyone’s fault, but we know you’re going to need extra help.”
Mr Varadkar stressed that this does not constitute another lockdown, as offices, shops, factories and construction sites will remain open.
“The real impact, sadly, is going to be felt in the hospitality sector – by the cafes, restaurants and hotels – this is going to be really tough for them,” he admitted.
One reporter asked Mr Varadkar about an incident that happened earlier in the day.
As he was speaking to cameras at a park in Dublin, a woman wearing a mask threw a milkshake in his face before running away.
The deputy prime minister confirmed that he will be speaking to the police about the attack next week.