The Irish government has announced that schools will remain closed until Jan. 11 and the rest of the country will remain under Level 5 restrictions until Jan. 31.
Micheál Martin, the Irish taoiseach, or prime minister, unveiled the measures in a televised address.
Level 5 restrictions mean that all nonessential retail will be closed, individuals are not allowed to travel further than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their homes and household visits will be banned, unless they are to provide care. The measures will come into effect at midnight, a day before New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The measures were agreed at an emergency cabinet meeting that came after Ireland suffered its highest number of new cases in a one-day period since the start of the outbreak, with 1,718 new infections, according to the Irish Department of Health.
There were 13 deaths in the last 24 hours, boosting the country’s total death toll to 2,226. There have been 90,157 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ireland, or 45.6 per 100,000 people. As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, there were 455 patients in Irish hospitals, 37 of whom were in an intensive-care units. Ireland has a population of 4.9 million, according to Eurostat.
Ireland had already imposed a restriction allowing no more than two families to mingle in one household until Dec. 31. Health officials are concerned that cases will overwhelm hospitals, which are seeing their highest levels of occupancy since May.
The new variant of COVID-19 that is sweeping across the U.K. has been detected in Ireland and is spreading at an unimaginable rate, said Martin.
Like many European countries, Ireland seemed to have success in containing the spread of the virus earlier this year, but has seen cases spike again as winter weather arrived. Ireland has mandated face masks on public transport, in shops and shopping centers, and in some other indoor settings, according to the HSE health service.
But it has not implemented the kind of strict mandate that has helped other, mostly Asian, countries avoid community transmission.