Three counties in Ireland’s midlands are under fresh restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin announced the measures for Kildare, Laois and Offaly following a surge of Covid-19 cases.
In a special address to the nation on Friday, Mr Martin said the virus remains a “deep and urgent threat”.
The new rules include restricting movement with the exception of work purposes and other essential journeys; restaurants and pubs serving food to close, apart from takeaway services, deliveries and limited outdoor dining; and the closure of indoor entertainment and sport venues such as cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries and bingo halls.
Visits to prisons, acute hospitals and nursing homes will be suspended except on compassionate grounds.
People have been asked not to travel to those counties unless for work.
However, retail shops can remain open with the wearing of face masks, and childcare facilities and schools that are open can remain open.
Outdoor amenities including playgrounds will also remain open with social distancing.
“Households in these counties are asked to restrict visitors to their homes to no more than six people from no more than three households,” Mr Martin said.
“Outdoor gatherings should be limited to 15 for organised activities.”
Mr Martin added: “We are conscious that as we move forward through this pandemic our responses need to be more nuanced and more sustainable.”
He said Ireland is “still doing well by international standards” but described localised clusters as “a serious concern”.
Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, said that as of Friday evening there had been 289 cases of coronavirus recorded in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly over the last 14 days.
“I fully understand that today’s decision will be very disappointing and will cause significant disruption for many of the people in these counties who have already made very significant personal sacrifices in supporting the public health measures throughout this time,” he said.
“But we believe that today’s measures will help us to control the disease and we are hopeful that they will only need to be in place for the next two weeks, as currently recommended.”
Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald responded to the move by claiming communities are “paying the price for lack of testing and inspection at meat plants and Direct Provision centres.
“This must be urgently addressed. The community must be protected.”
Meanwhile Labour senator Mark Wall has urged the public in Laois, Offaly and Kildare to heed the new measures.
“I know these measures will be difficult to adhere to, but we must follow them in order to suppress the spread of the virus. I would respectfully ask that we all adhere to the steps announced for the next two weeks,” he said.
“It is about saving lives that would otherwise be lost and to protect our parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and vulnerable people. Covid-19 knows no boundaries and it is vital that we do not allow uncontrolled transmission to take hold in our community.”
A food processing plant in Co Kildare stopped operations at its Timohoe facility at 9pm on Wednesday after 80 workers tested positive for coronavirus.
On Friday, the firm announced a further six cases of coronavirus have been detected, adding in a statement that the “level of asymptomatic infectivity appears to be very high”.
The GAA has suspended all activity in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly, including all collective training, matches, face-to-face meetings and camps.
“GAA grounds and facilities in the affected counties should remain closed until further notice,” it said.
“The position will be reviewed by our Gaelic games Covid-19 advisory group next Monday, after which further advice will be issued to clubs in the affected counties.”
The Department of Health daily update on Friday included notification of another four deaths and 98 new cases – bringing the total number of deaths in Ireland to 1,772, and the number of confirmed cases to 26,470.
The reproduction number of the virus in Ireland is now estimated to be 1.8.