LONDON – Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown because of coronavirus concerns, with its government urging everyone who can to “stay at home.”
On Thursday morning local time, Ireland entered a six-week lockdown that includes new restrictions. Schools, however, remain open.
A number of European countries have experienced a resurgence in coronavirus cases and hospital admissions. On Wednesday alone, at least 10 European nations announced record numbers of daily cases.
Ireland, which has a population of about 5 million, has recorded more than 53,400 confirmed cases and 1,868 deaths.
As Europe braces for the second wave of the pandemic, many countries have opted for targeted, regional restrictions.
Ireland has gone a step further with its national lockdown. Under the new restrictions, set to last until Dec. 1, people in Ireland are being asked to stay at home and to exercise within a three-mile radius of their homes. Restaurants, cafes and bars can stay open for takeaway and deliveries, but most nonessential retail establishments will close, including hairdressers and barbers. Only 10 people will be allowed at funerals.
Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said at a news conference that Ireland “will be the first country in Europe to go back into a national lockdown.”
Varadkar said the move could result in 150,000 people losing their jobs and cost the government 1.5 billion euros. But he said the country needed to take a “preemptive strike” against the virus “before it is too late.”
Varadkar drew comparisons to the pandemic of 1918, noting that the second wave was worse than the first.
“That’s not inevitable this time,” he said. “We can make sure the second wave is only a ripple, but that depends on all of us.”
Some commentators noted that there is a sense of exhaustion this time around.
Tanya Sweeney, a columnist for Ireland’s Independent newspaper, wrote that “when lockdown was announced in March, we banded together in a sort of Blitz spirit, often keen to do our bit in the ‘war’ against covid-19. But now, as we enter into a second wave of lockdowns, the nights are getting longer and many of us, while keen to do the right thing are just a bit . . . well, depleted.”
Gail Mc Elroy, a professor of politics at Trinity College Dublin, said there is a “weary acceptance that it’s necessary.” Both of the main governing parties, and the opposition party, are supportive of the measures, Mc Elroy said, but “people are exhausted and fatigued like they are in every other country in Europe.”
Ireland has 270.8 cases per 100,000 residents – a rate lower than many other European countries, including the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Britain. Nonetheless, there is concern in Ireland about how rapidly its rates are rising, Mc Elroy said, and that its health-care system has fewer critical-care beds than many other E.U. countries.
“There is a sense we need to act quickly before it becomes unmanageable,” she said.
Like most countries in Europe, Ireland remains committed to keeping its schools open with in-person classes. In his address to the nation on Monday evening, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said children “need their education.”
“We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease,” he said.
Martin said that only “essential workers” will be permitted to travel to work, adding that construction projects and most manufacturing will be allowed to continue. He also said the government would bolster financial support for businesses and individuals affected by the lockdown.
He added that “social isolation and anxiety is a very real issue for many people,” and so those living alone or parenting alone or at risk of social isolation could pair up with another household to form a “support bubble.”
“I understand, and I feel very personally and profoundly the sense of disappointment, the feelings of loneliness, perhaps even the despair, that this announcement will bring for many,” Martin said.
“The days are getting shorter and colder, but I ask you to remember this: Even as the winter comes in, there is hope. And there is light.”
Martin said that if everyone pulls together over the next six weeks, “we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.”