Ireland is expected to close most shops and amenities and impose a 5km (3 mile) travel limit, some of the severest Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, to curb surging infection rates.
The government was poised to announce on Monday evening that from midnight on Wednesday the country will move to its highest lockdown tier for six weeks. Visits to private homes will not be permitted and there are to be no gatherings except for tightly controlled weddings and funerals, according to leaks in Irish media in advance of the official statement.
A graduated fine system for those who breach the 5km travel limit will be announced later this week, as will new guidelines on social bubbles. Two households can meet outdoors within the travel limit.
Non-essential retail will close along with barbers’ shops, beauty salons, gyms, leisure centres and cultural amenities. Pubs, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve takeout meals only.
Schools and creches are to remain open, but teachers’ unions signalled they may challenge this, citing their members’ safety. Martin Marjoram, the president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, said his members were anxious and more rapid coronavirus testing was needed for schools to remain open.
The pandemic unemployment payment is to be restored to €350 (£320) a week for those with prior earnings of €400 a week and above. Wage subsidy rates are also to be improved.
Supermarkets and grocery stores across Ireland reported unusually busy trading on Monday even though they will remain open. Building sites are also expected to remain operational.
Health officials reported 1,031 new infections on Monday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 50,993. The death toll remained unchanged at 1,852.
Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population is 261, less than Britain’s, France’s and Spain’s, and around the middle of Europe’s table. But Ireland’s health service has little spare capacity, especially for intensive care.
Opposition parties broadly supported tighter restrictions but several business groups warned of a wave of bankruptcies and job losses.
The chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, requested a level 5 lockdown two weeks ago but the coalition government rejected the recommendation, citing the damage that it would inflict on the economy and state finances and expressing hope that level 3 restrictions would contain the virus.
Leo Varadkar, the deputy prime minister, accused Holohan and his emergency health team colleagues of not thinking through the recommendation. Several ministers said a second lockdown would be divisive and would struggle to emulate the social cohesion and widespread public compliance of the first.
However, with virus numbers spiralling, Holohan got a different response when he again requested level 5 last weekend, prompting some to say Varadkar had gone from Dr No to the Yes Minister.
Two days of intense talks between health officials and leaders of the three ruling parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and