Lockdown restrictions on movement in Ireland are to be extended for a further three weeks, the Taoiseach has announced.
The measures, which prevent people from leaving home in all but limited circumstances, were due to expire on Easter Sunday.
Leo Varadkar said the advice from Ireland’s national public health emergency team (NPHET) was to extend the restrictions until Tuesday May 5.
He said the Government had accepted that advice.
The move was accompanied by an announcement from Education Minister Joe McHugh that Leaving Cert exams will be postponed from June until late July or August and Junior Cycle exams are being cancelled and will be replaced with school-based tests at the start of the new school year.
Minister for Health Simon Harris also announced that he intends to extend regulations that have given the Garda added powers to enforce the social distancing rules.
The laws, which came into effect earlier this week, give gardai the power to arrest and fine people up to 2,500 euro if they fail to comply with their instructions upon detection of a breach of the rules. Those found guilty could also receive a prison sentence of up to six months.
Mr Varadkar thanked Irish people for their forbearance and said every sacrifice they were making was saving lives.
“Because the vast majority of people have heeded the advice of the experts we have been able to interrupt the spread of the virus, we have been able to shelter the most vulnerable and protect them,” he said.
“Your sacrifices are making a difference, we have slowed the spread of the virus considerably but unfortunately we have not stopped its spread.”
An Taoiseach, @LeoVaradkar,— MerrionStreet.ie #StayAtHome (@merrionstreet) April 10, 2020
"Today, the expert recommendation is to extend them for a further three weeks, until Tuesday May 5th.
The Government has accepted this recommendation."
The full speech can be read on MerrionStreet - https://t.co/u19k6jLNUE pic.twitter.com/Cx17hYGiYx
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 287 on Friday, with a further 25 deaths reported.
The were 480 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed.
The NPHET initially reported that the total number of confirmed cases was 7,054.
But it later clarified that an additional 1,035 positive results had come back from samples that had been sent to German labs for analysis, bringing the actual total of Irish cases to 8,089.
Mr Varadkar added: “We all know people who are suffering and grieving at this time, too many have died and sadly more will die and get sick before this is over.
“So today’s message is that we cannot be complacent and we cannot lose focus.
“What we’re doing is difficult, but it is making a difference and we have to keep going. We need to persevere and we need to maintain our discipline and resolve.
“The restrictions we introduced two weeks ago were set to expire on Sunday.
“Today, the expert recommendation is to extend them for a further three weeks until Tuesday May 5.
“The Government has accepted this recommendation.”
The current restrictions were ordered by the Government on March 27.
They were initially in place for a two-week period ending on Easter Sunday.
Experts have credited the social distancing measures with significantly flattening the curve of the virus’s spread.
The day-on-day growth rate of Covid-19 has dropped from more than 30% to 9%.
The reproductive rate, the number of people infected by each infected person, had also fallen significantly, from around four at the beginning of the outbreak to close to one.
Under the restrictions, people have been ordered to remain in their homes in all but a limited set of specific circumstances.
The circumstances include travelling to or from work deemed to be essential, food shopping, medical appointments, brief exercise, farming activity and vital family reasons.
People who do leave their homes for exercise are prevented from travelling beyond a 2km radius from their homes.
All people over the age of 70, and other people considered vulnerable to the disease, have been told to “cocoon” and not leave home at all.
All non-essential surgery, health procedures and other non-essential health services have been postponed.
All public and private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or living unit have been prohibited for the last two weeks and social visits to relatives beyond the family unit at home have not been allowed.
The Taoiseach continued: “I know many of us would like to know when things will go back to normal and life will be as it was.
“We are working towards that time.
“And we’re planning carefully so that we get there safely.
“The truth is nobody knows for certain when that will be or how our lives will be different when it comes.
“All we can do for now is take one day at a time.
“Think of others and choose hope and solidarity over self-interest and fear.
“Your decisions will save lives. What may be an inconvenience for some will be life saving for others.
“So I’m calling on everyone to do what is asked of them, to be tolerant and compassionate, to think about each other before we think about ourselves.
“Nothing greater will be asked to many of us.”