The country has been plunged into a two-week total lockdown on Government orders as it struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has now killed 22 people here.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the stark announcement at a hastily arranged press conference last night and said the drastic measures were necessary to try and combat Covid-19.
With effect from midnight for a two-week period, until Easter Sunday, April 12, everybody must now stay at home in all but a handful of circumstances, such as travelling to and from work that has been deemed essential health, social care, or other essential service that cannot be done from home; to shop for food or household goods; to attend medical appointments and collect medicines; to provide care to children, elderly, or vulnerable people; for brief individual physical exercise within 2km of your own home, or for farming purposes.
All public and private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, Mr Varadkar said.
Setting out what this meant, Mr Varadkar said all non-essential surgery, health procedures, and other non-essential health services will be postponed.
All visits to hospitals, residential healthcare settings, other residential settings and prisons are to cease, with specific exceptions on compassionate grounds.
The Taoiseach called on the public to accept these severe restrictions on their personal freedoms for the greater good.
“I’m asking people to give meaning to our freedom and liberty by agreeing to these restrictions, restricting how we live our lives, so that others may live and asking us for a time to forego our personal liberties and freedoms for a greater cause,” said Mr Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar said he was personally reluctant to use the phrase ‘lockdown’, but conceded the measures are “very restrictive”.
“This is very restrictive,” he said. “We are saying ‘do not leave your home’.
"There is not much more beyond this we could do to further restrict people.”
Mr Varadkar said he was not concerned about panic buying, saying there is enough food in the country to feed 40m people.
“We are not closing the supermarkets.”
He was speaking after it was confirmed that a further three people, including a female nurse, died having contracted Covid-19, bringing to 22 the total number of deaths in Ireland so far.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has been informed of 302 new confirmed cases in Ireland, as at 1pm, Thursday, March 26.
As a result, there are now 2,121 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland.
There was also concern expressed about the capacity of the country’s intensive care beds to cope with the demands being placed on them.
There has been a five-fold increase in the number of beds needed to cope with Covid-19 cases since Monday.
Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins signed into law the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 after it was passed in the Seanad.
The bill affords the Government extraordinary emergency powers to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate economic collapse.
It also prevents evictions of tenants, imposes a rent freeze, allows restaurants to become takeaways, and provides for the rehiring of retired health care workers and former soldiers.
The President highlighted the importance of time limits on some of the measures now signed into law.
“Extraordinary and difficult measures have been necessary as we try to stem the tide of increasing infection,” he said.
“These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end.”
Gardaí last night announced a high-visibility patrolling operation across the country this weekend.
The policing operation runs until 7am on Monday, and will involve thousands of gardaí on foot, bike, and mobile patrols.