Ireland Adds Curbs as Virus Threatens to Run Out of Control

Ireland tightened restrictions in a bid to contain its worst virus outbreak yet, adding extra curbs to what’s already one of Western Europe’s strictest lockdowns as new infections hit a record.

The government will keep most students out of schools until at least the end of the month, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in Dublin on Wednesday. Most construction will also halt, and click-and-collect services from non-essential stores will end.

From Jan. 9, all passengers arriving at Irish airports and ports whose trip starts in Great Britain or South Africa will need evidence of a recent negative virus test result. Almost 8,000 new Irish cases were reported today, with health authorities seeing evidence of an increasing presence of the U.K. variant.

“We are in a battle against the deadly and ever-changing virus,” Martin said. “We may be entering the most challenging phase of all.”

Like many nations across Europe, Ireland is grappling with a renewed virus surge. Martin’s government relaxed restrictions last month, a tactic that may have contributed to one of the world’s highest contagion rates in recent days. Just as elsewhere, his administration has also come under fire for the vaccination program’s slow pace.

Health authorities recorded more than 950 virus hospitalizations on Wednesday, the highest since the pandemic began. Justice Minister Helen McEntee said today she has tested positive, and more than 90% of intensive care beds are now occupied.

Bars, non-essential stores and personal services such as hairdressers have already been shuttered, and the government hinted that curbs could remain in place until the end of March.

“The key issue is how long this latest lockdown may last,” Dermot O’Leary, chief economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin, said. “Government supports will clearly be needed once again.”

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