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Ireland delays end of full coronavirus lockdown

  • Joe Stenson

    Agence France-Presse

Dublin, Ireland   /   Thu, July 16, 2020   /   07:35 am
Ireland delays end of full coronavirus lockdown A shopper walks past a sign reading 'Welcome Back' in the window display of a re-opened Zara shop in Grafton Street in central Dublin, Ireland on June 8, 2020, as lockdown measures are eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.Ireland will delay the end of its coronavirus lockdown, slowing down its accelerated plan to return to normal because of a surge in new cases, prime minister Micheal Martin said Wednesday. (AFP/Paul Faith)

Ireland will delay the end of its coronavirus lockdown, slowing down its accelerated plan to return to normal because of a surge in new cases, prime minister Micheal Martin said Wednesday.

Under an accelerated version of the government's original plan to leave lockdown, Ireland had been set to enter the fourth and final stage of restrictions relaxing on Monday.

The most significant move would have seen all pubs and bars allowed to start trading.

But Martin said the reproductive rate of the virus -- the number of fresh infections a single case passes on -- "has now risen above one" and the priority now was to reduce it.

"By doing so, we will give ourselves the best chance possible to fully reopen our schools in late August," he added.

The government will also formulate regulations with enforcement and penalty capabilities to mandate the wearing of facemasks in shops, he said, announcing the cabinet's decision to keep current measures in place until August 10.

Some pubs have already been allowed to open in the republic.

As Ireland raised the tempo of its plan to end lockdown last month those of its 7,000 pubs serving food were allowed to open on June 29.

It is the remaining drinking-only establishments which have now been dealt a three-week delay.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland -- which represents pubs outside the greater Dublin area -- said it knew of 3,500 yet to reopen.

Meanwhile, restrictions limiting gatherings to 50 people indoors and 200 outdoors will also be extended.

"Given the risk of the spread of infection associated with social gatherings, as well as the evidence of outbreaks from bars and pubs in other countries... hotel bars, nightclubs and casinos will remain closed," Martin added.

The announcements represent a significant scaling back of the government's ambition to reopen the nation ahead of schedule.

They also introduce a fresh note of caution in the republic in the face of a feared "second wave" of infections.

Ireland has seen 1,748 deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, according to Wednesday department of health figures.

There have been several days where no deaths have been registered but as the country began reopening, the number of infections has risen.

Public health officials have expressed particularly concern about new cases among younger people.

"There is evidence that unrestricted house parties have led to a rise in recent outbreaks of the virus," said Martin.

"We need to refocus the message for our young people about the positive role they can play in preventing the further spread of the virus."