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24th Mar 2020

#Covid-19: Ban on gatherings of more than four people, says Varadkar

“This is the best way to slow the virus.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed today that gatherings of more than four people should be avoided, unless from the same household.

Speaking today, he said further social distancing measures need to be implemented to further slow the spread of the coronavirus.

There will be an increase of Gardaí and park rangers in parks and public spaces to ensure that new social distancing rules are adhered to.

Varadkar added that all non-essential businesses will be closing. These include theatres, clubs, gyms, leisure centres, hairdressers, betting offices, marts, markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries, and other similar outlets.

“I’m asking you to stay at home if possible,” he said. “This is the best way to slow the virus.

“You should only leave home to go to work, to get essential supplies, or to attend medical and dental appointments.”

Varadkar added that it is “OK to see our families and loved ones,” and to exercise, as long as social distancing rules are followed. He added that the Gardaí and park rangers’ new powers would be used “sparingly.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team met this morning to discuss further measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

They recommended that all businesses and services deemed non-essential should be closed. Restaurants and café’s should operate takeaway measures. All hotels should limit occupancy to essential, non social and non tourist reasons.

Further restrictions are expected to be introduced in the weeks ahead.

Priority testing for healthcare workers including GPs will also be introduced in the coming days, while it has been confirmed that schools will not reopen on March 29. 

The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support payment will also increase from €203 to €350 to aid those who have lost their jobs since the outbreak began.

This comes after significant gatherings in public places were documented over the weekend in Glendalough, Powerscourt, and elsewhere.

Gardaí had warned people to stay away from busy areas while councils closed certain carparks near densely populated areas due to social distancing concerns.

Minister for Health Simon Harris commended the councils’ initiative on Morning Ireland yesterday, but admitted that it is up to individuals to abide by appropriate social distancing rules.

“There needs to be two metres between you and other people,” he said. “If you can’t do that you shouldn’t be operating.

“Social distancing isn’t just nice to do. It’s the difference between saving lives and not.”

Boris Johnson enforced a three-week lockdown in the UK last night. 

He said the measures were “viral” to ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed over the coming weeks.

“And as we have seen elsewhere, in other countries that also have fantastic health care systems, that is the moment of real danger,” he said.

“To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.

“That is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.”