Ireland not even halfway through third lockdown, according to taoiseach – dpa international

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The usually busy main street in Knock, a popular Catholic pilgrimage town in Ireland. As seen at evening time during Ireland's third coronavirus lockdown.

The usually busy main street in Knock, a Catholic pilgrimage town in Ireland. As seen at evening time during Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown.

DUBLIN — Almost two months into Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said the country “is looking at a continuation of severe restrictions” until the end of April, despite case numbers plummeting since a January peak.

Martin, whose official title is taoiseach, made the warning in a late-night Thursday interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, in which he said extending the lockdown would be “worth it.”

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, Ireland’s main opposition party, slammed Martin’s comments as “flippant.” Peadar Tóibīn, head the small opposition party Aontú, said the government’s proposed extension amounted to “policy failure.”

The lockdown bans people from travelling more than 5 kilometres from their homes unless for “essential” journeys and people have been told to work from home where possible.

Many businesses have been forced to close, with unemployment hitting a near-record 27 per cent in January.

Police said on Friday that almost 8,000 fines has been issued for alleged breaches of the rules.

While schools are likely to reopen next month and construction set to resume sometime thereafter, restaurants and hairdressers are likely to be kept shut long after any late-April easing of restrictions, Martin warned, claiming Ireland is vulnerable to a “British variant” of the virus that he deemed “highly transmissible.”

Over 3,000 pubs have been closed since March 2020 for all but two weeks, while religious ceremonies and services must be held behind closed doors.

Martin said Covid vaccines mean “light at the end of the tunnel” – though in common with much of Europe, Ireland’s roll-out has been glacial, lagging far behind neighbouring Britain.

Ireland’s cumulative virus case number jumped from around 93,000 on January 1 to almost 200,000 a month later, though numbers announced on Thursday showed only 12,000 more cases added during February.

A second lockdown ran for 6 weeks until early December, before around three weeks of dine-in service in restaurants was allowed, along with the reopening of retail deemed “non essential.”

The Central Statistics Office said on Friday that virus-related hospitalizations and intensive care admissions have been falling since early January.

Ireland’s virus-related death toll topped 4,000 this week, with over 1,500 deaths reported in nursing homes by early February.

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