The extent to which almost 400,000 people in the Midlands adhere to the lockdown imposed upon on them as of midnight last night will determine whether the Covid-19 outbreak can be contained, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said.
Garda checkpoints are to be mounted across Laois, Kildare, and Offaly to enforce the fortnight-long lockdown announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.
Dr Glynn had alerted the Government to the fact that "action is now required to control the spread of the disease" in the three counties where 292 cases have arisen in the last 14 days. That is almost half of all cases detected in the country over that time.
"What every individual in these counties does will dictate where we go over the next two weeks," said Dr Glynn. "We believe these measures are necessary to control the spread of the disease, and we are hopeful they will only be in place for two weeks."
Dr Glynn said it is quite likely there will be a significant number of new cases over the coming days, adding that the effect of the lockdown measures will not be felt for "at least a number of days".
He said that at present there is no community transmission in the three counties, but the virus is spreading through "significant clusters". He said it would be "too late" to wait until the virus began to spread in the community once more.
The acting CMO said he cannot guarantee the restrictions will be lifted in a fortnight, but added: "If we can contain the disease within these clusters for the next two weeks, there is a high likelihood that we can come back out of it in two weeks' time."
There were 66 more cases announced in three counties yesterday. In all, 98 cases were confirmed by NPHET, with four more deaths from the virus.
Under the restrictions, residents of the counties can only travel within their own county, other than:
- to travel to and from work where that work cannot be done from home;
- to attend medical appointments, collect medicines and other health products;
- for vital family reasons, like providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people, but excluding social family visits;
- for farming purposes, food production, or care of animals.
Cafes and bars will close unless they are doing takeaway or outdoor dining, which is limited to 15 customers. Cinemas, gyms, cultural venues, and other entertainment venues will close. All sport will be cancelled, though non-contact training for up to 15 people can continue.
Retail stores can remain open under strict social distancing rules. Hotels will remain open, but must limit themselves to non-tourist and non-social business. Hairdressers can remain open. Funerals will be limited to 25 attendees, while indoor gatherings are expected to be limited to six people and outdoor gatherings to 15. Childcare will stay open and preparations to open schools will continue as planned.
The clusters are linked in large part to a number of outbreaks at food processing plants and direct provision centres in the Midlands. O’Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe, Co Kildare, which had halted production when 80 of its more than 240 workers tested positive last night confirmed that it had tested a further 42 staff, with six having tested positive.
The Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) said a return to 'overcrowding' in direct provision centres in July contributed to the virus spread. There are currently Covid-19 outbreaks in three centres in the Midlands, where a number of people are also working in local meat processing facilities. In the past week, 34 asylum seekers at the centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare tested positive for Covid-19.
The Department of Justice said it reduced room occupancy to "no more than three people" per room. "This is something we committed to very early in the pandemic, and it is something we are fully committed to continuing into the future," a spokesperson said.