Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen's Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)
Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen’s Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s capital Dublin faces three weeks of tougher coronavirus-related restrictions than the rest the country, the government said on Friday, with indoor dining banned in restaurants and religious services prohibited.

Announcing the measures, which take effect from midnight, Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheál Martin said they are needed as otherwise “Dublin could return to the worst stages of this crisis.”

After conducting almost as many tests over the past two months as the preceding five, Ireland has since August seen a similar resurgence as elsewhere in Europe of new daily case numbers of the novel coronavirus.

The Department of Health announced 253 new cases on Friday, almost half of them in Dublin, which is home to 1.4 million of the country’s 4.9 million people.

Friday’s announcement means that Dublin follows cities such as Madrid and Reykjavik into tighter restrictions relative to elsewhere in their countries, with one of Europe’s longest pub shutdowns to be extended in the capital ahead of the rest of Ireland’s pubs reopening on Monday.

Opposition leader Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin, who represents a Dublin constituency, criticized the decision as misplaced.

“Evidence suggests that in fact restaurants and pubs have not proven to be areas where clusters have occurred,” she said ahead of the prime minister’s announcement.

Members of McDonald’s Sinn Fein face police questioning in Northern Ireland over possible breaches of health rules there during a funeral in Belfast in June.

Martin said the restrictions are “not a reflection on business owners” but based “on evidence of medical experts.”

Pub owners have slammed the proposals, citing official data linking the rise in infections to outbreaks in meat factories and domestic social gatherings.

Adrian Cummins, CEO of The Restaurants Association of Ireland, said on Twitter that “no policymaker has given a clear & coherent rationale to single out Restaurants & Pubs for Closure.”

Ireland curbs on travel and on pubs have been criticized for being tighter than elsewhere in Europe, with Dublin-based airline Ryanair on Friday accusing the government of “locking the country up like North Korea.”

Ireland has reported around 32,000 of the more than 30 million novel coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide and 1,792 related deaths, most of which occured during a March-June lockdown. 80 people are in hospital after testing positive, a four-fold increase from one month ago.

Martin earlier this week announced a five-level system of restrictions to be applied depending on the spread of the virus. Friday’s announcement puts Dublin on Level 3, with the rest of the country on 2. People have been advised not to undertake unnecessary travel in and out of the capital.

Ronan Glynn, the acting chief medical officer, told the government ahead of Friday’s announcement that “significant additional measures” would be needed to stem the increase in cases seen in Dublin.

Follow us on Twitter