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Coronavirus: Further restrictions announced in Republic of Ireland

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

A raft of new restrictions on public movements in the Republic of Ireland have been announced as the battle against Covid-19 is stepped up.

The measures are part of the Dublin Government’s on-going plan to limit the impact of the deadly virus on workers and employers with more stringent social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than four people are being restricted as part of the tough new measures to combat the virus.

All theatres, gyms, hairdressers, casinos and bingo halls are to close.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said all existing coronavirus measures including the closure of schools will be extended until Sunday April 19.

Mr Varadkar thanked the public for listening to the advice on physical distancing and hand washing so far.

He said "It's too early to know for sure but we do believe it's making a difference.

"However we do believe we need to do more."

He said he was asking people "to stay at home if at all possible".

Mr Varadkar said people should only leave home to go to work, if they can't work from home, to get essential supplies and to take physical exercise.

No unnecessary travel is to be taken within the country or overseas, the Taoiseach said.

All non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public, while restaurants and cafes are to limit to takeaway only.

"These are unprecedented actions to an unprecedented time," Mr Varadkar said.

"We're in this in for the long haul, and this could go on for weeks.

There will be increased patrols by park rangers and the gardaí to make sure physical distancing is being practised in public areas.

Mr Varadkar said new powers will only be used when necessary.

He said that Ireland recently commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the men and women that won Ireland's independence.

He said he never believed we would be called upon to match their courage or example but we are now working as a country to respond to this emergency.

He said: "our greatest generation is not in the past" and added "better times are yet to come".

Emergency welfare payment for workers who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis will increase to €350 per week.

And in a significant new move the Government will also pay 70% of employee wages up to €410 per week for businesses who are willing to meet the remainder of their staff’s weekly payment.

Last week, the Irish Government introduced the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment which was initially set at €203 per week.

However, the Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to significantly increase the payment for those who are out of work due the Government’s demand that businesses close during the crisis.

The payment, which is available to employees and self-employed workers who are down income because of the coronavirus, will now increase to €350 per week.

The Government is also planning to announce a new payment for companies whose income has dropped by 25% but still want to retain their staff.

In these cases, the State will pay 70% of employee salaries up to €410 per week and the company will be asked to pay the remaining 30%.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has also proposed a €1.7bn plan in which the State would pay 75% of wages for three months, up to €40,000 of pay per worker.

Meanwhile, the school and college shutdown is being extended until Monday April 20 at the earliest, but no decision has been taken in relation to the State written exams in June.

The Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams are still scheduled to go ahead as normal, but that could change, depending on the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

In the worst case scenario, schools would not return until end of August/ September, more than five months after closing their doors on March 12.

The extended shutdown leaves little time for post-primary schools, which wrap up by the end of May, to resume in a meaningful way in the current academic year.

The primary school year continues to the end of June, so that offers more latitude for a resumption of classes at the country’s 3,000 primary schools, if circumstances allow.

Some 126,000 students are entered for the June exams – 61,053 due to sit the Leaving Cert and 65,190 at Junior Cycle level.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the extension as part of a wider package of measures to restrict the spread of the virus.

The Government is also to introduce emergency legislation to allow retired soldiers re-join the Defence Forces.

The new laws have been in the pipe line for a number of months but are now being fast-tracked as part of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Defence Forces are preparing for a greater role in the State’s response to the national health crisis and the legislation will clear the path for retired soldiers to return to service.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe brought an amendment to the Defence Act to Cabinet ahead of the Dáil holding an emergency sitting on Thursday.

It is unclear how many ex-soldiers will seek to re-join the Defence Forces but there is understood to be some interest among retired security personnel in taking part in the State’s fight against the virus.

The new measures in Ireland come after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told families in the UK, including Northern Ireland, to stay at home except when shopping for basic necessities and to perform one type of exercise a day.

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Irish Independent