In televised addresses, both the premiers in Dublin and London have announced stronger measures in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
At a press briefing today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said they have announced new restrictions in a “great national effort” to lower the rate of transmission of the disease in the 26 Counties.
He has advised people to stay at home, if at all possible, and said they can only leave home to go to work, go to shops for essential supplies or exercise. Visits to other people’s homes are to be avoided, as are social gatherings of more than four people.
The measures are in line with those announced last night by British Prime Minister, which are also being implemented by the Stormont government in the north of Ireland.
Mr Varadkar said: “We need to do more. I’m asking you to stay at home if at all possible to buy us time”.
In the South, all non-essential retail outlets, including hairdressers, are to close, while others are to limit capacity for social distancing. All theatres, clubs, hairdressers, and bingo halls are to be closed, while all sporting events are cancelled. All cafes and restaurants should restrict their operations to take away only, while hotels are to limit capacity.
The measures are designed to try and offset the economic impact of the pandemic which has seen more than 140,000 people in the 26 Counties lose their jobs.
By Tuesday afternoon, there were a total of ten coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland – six in the South and four in the North. There were 239 new cases yesterday, 219 in the South and 20 in the North, bringing the total to 1,273 cases -- 1,125 in the South and 148 in the North.
NEW POLICE POWERS
Both the governments in Dublin and London are continuing to play catch-up by adopting policies which have brought the disease under control in Asian countries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night ordered a ‘lockdown’ to tackle the coronavirus in Britain, where health services are already facing a capacity crisis due to a delayed response by the government there.
Johnson revealed that police fines could be issued to public gatherings of more than two people. The police in Britain have also been empowered to intervene if people fail to follow instructions to ‘stay at home’, subject to a few exceptions: when shopping for essentials; doing daily exercise; attending to the needs of vulnerable people; and travelling to and from essential work.
Shops selling non-essential goods in Britain and the north of Ireland are being told to shut. Other premises being closed are libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship. While parks will remain open for exercise, all social events including weddings and baptisms will be stopped, although funerals will continue.
The measures will be in place for at least three weeks. “If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” Mr Johnson said.
His government also announced moves to temporarily fund the salaries of employees facing redundancy in the private sector, but has failed to come up with a plan for the self-employed, many of whom are ignoring instructions not to go to work.
There are signs that major metropolitan areas which depend heavily on public transpost, such as London and New York, could become the new epicentre of the virus, while affected areas of Europe and seeing their own ‘lockdown’ efforts begin to work.
Despite a sudden u-turn in its approach, Britain is rapidly becoming one of the most infected countries. A further large jump in the number of deaths and cases of the virus was announced by authorities in London today. The daily rise of 87 deaths is by far the largest yet seen, as was the jump in new cases of 1,427 to 8,077.
The numbers have added to pressure for further action in London to tackle crowding on the Underground, which has continued throughout the crisis.
PRISONERS DEMAND CHANGES
The DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has said the new restrictions will likely last more than three weeks in the North. She said if she was a “betting person” she would think the measures will continue beyond Easter.
Meanwhile, the Prison Service in the Six Counties has said it is to release some prisoners in order to “relieve pressure” on the justice system. Significantly, no political prisoners are to be released.
The move comes after republican prisoners on Roe 4, Maghaberry called for safety measures to be introduced to prevent contamination from the outside.
In a statement released on Sunday, they called for warders to be removed from the landing throughout the day, and for an end of forced transport of prisoners to other areas of the jail, with videolink and skype used instead.
“These are meagre requests, yet the Six County prison service seems to only be interested in stalling,” they said.
“It is clear that they do not care for prisoners, and will happily see us incapacitated and facing potential death via the virus rather than take simple precautions.
“This reflects again a service backed by Stormont and the British state, which is blinded by hatred of republicans and a complete disregard for those it holds captive.”