By Tomas Doherty
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced new public health measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in Dublin, which is continuing to see a rapid rise in infections.
The capital will now move into Level Three of the Government’s Covid-19 plan from midnight tonight for three weeks. Level Three restrictions mean Dublin will be subject to tighter rules than the rest of the country.
Speaking in a live broadcast on Friday night, Mr Martin said across Europe coronavirus is gaining a foothold and spreading at a rate not seen since March and April.
He said many countries have seen a “doubling of new cases” in the past two weeks and the threat of Covid-19 is growing in Ireland. He added the capital is in a very dangerous place and that without action there is a real threat that Dublin could return to worst days of the crisis.
My first and most important obligation, and that of Government, is to protect you. This virus kills. It kills more old people than young, but it kills young people too. And the ones it doesn’t kill, it leaves many of them sick and disabled for months.
“As well as being Taoiseach, I am also a father, a husband, a brother, a sports fan, someone who likes a pint with my friends. I know how exhausting, how infuriating, how lonely it has been and still is for so many of our people as we try to manage this,” Mr Martin said.
“But I also know this, my first and most important obligation, and that of Government, is to protect you. This virus kills. It kills more old people than young, but it kills young people too. And the ones it doesn’t kill, it leaves many of them sick and disabled for months.”
The Taoiseach said: “Our objective is clear. We must reduce the spread of the disease, stabilise the situation nationally, and bring Dublin back into line with the rest of the country within the next three weeks. We did it before with Laois, Offaly and Kildare and we can do it again.
“We are a resilient people. As a nation, throughout our history, we have come through every manner of trial and hardship. And this too will pass.”
Some of the measures announced by the Taoiseach include:
On the pausing of indoor dining in pubs and restaurants, the Taoiseach said: “The fact is that while we are seeing a lot of cases spreading in people’s homes, the initial infection is taking place outside the home and in the community. We need to keep the disease out of people’s homes in the first place.”
The Taoiseach said the new restrictions would be accompanied by extra business supports, including a €30 million investment in a top-up to the Restart Plus grant for Dublin businesses and a €5 million package to support the arts, culture, sports and tourism sectors in the capital.
Speaking this evening following the announcement, acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that while the entire month of August saw four deaths as a result of Covid-19, in September the country had already seen 17 deaths.
Dr Glynn said that at a current growth rate of cases between five and seven per cent per day, if this growth was not interrupted there would be upwards of 1,000 cases per day in the middle of October, half of which would be in Dublin.
He said this outcome was “not inevitable” and that if people cut their social contacts in half, the reproductive rate of the virus could also be cut in half. He said “the overarching objective is to cut down discretionary social contacts, to cut down people meeting up in social settings.”
Dr Glynn issued a special appeal to younger people, and urged them to “stick with” the public health advice and restrictions.
He said the “fervent hope” of the restrictions was that the disease would stabilise but that “the dye is already cast for the next week” at least.
Asked about restrictions applying to Dublin Airport, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the public health advice was the same to people whether they were travelling outside the county or outside the country – that they should only travel for work, education or essential purposes.
He said people from outside of the capital could transit through Dublin to use its airport with no restrictions in place, as could arrivals into the country.
Minister Ryan said enforcement of these travel restrictions would not be managed by Government and it would be up to airport authorities and the gardaí to use their discretion and enforce regulations.
With regards to overall enforcement of the new restrictions, the Taoiseach said there will be generally increased presence of gardaí but “we are not envisaging gardaí going into homes or anything like that.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said “this is not a lockdown of Dublin, this is not like what we experienced back in April and March.” He said offices, construction sites and shops would remain open, while the real impact would be felt in the hospitality sector which was “hit first, hit hardest, hit longest”.
The Tánaiste said in response to this, a package of €30 million in grants was being put in place for the sector while other grants and loans would be fast-tracked and “more” would be done in the budget to support the sector.
He said we needed the hospitality sector to “survive and prosper” again “to lighten up our lives” following the pandemic.
Dublin continues to have the highest incidence rate of coronavirus in the country – the infection rate in the county now stands at 114 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks, almost double the national average at 59 cases per 100,000.
Within Dublin itself, infection rates vary. Dublin North West, an area that includes Smithfield, Phibsborough, Finglas and Blanchardstown, has the highest incidence rate currently, with 173 cases recorded per 100,000 people over the last fortnight.
Dublin South, which encompasses Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire, Stillorgan and Shankill, has a rate of 53 cases per 100,000.
The news comes as the director-general of the HSE warned that the hospital system is heading into a difficult period and that some Dublin hospitals are already coming under “significant pressure.”
Paul Reid urged people to follow public health advice. “If we keep going on the road we’re going, we’re heading onto a road that could get us back to the point where we have to take more restrictive actions,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.