Good afternoon everyone.
The Government met today to consider a number of issues relating to the public health situation.
The first thing to say is that the current level 5 restrictions are having a positive effect on the profile of the disease in the country. We are seeing the total weekly cases, 5 day average cases and the 14 day incidence rates all coming down. Close contacts are also coming down.
The sacrifices that people are making in their homes, in their families, in their businesses and within their communities are bringing us in the right direction, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts to date.
Unfortunately, making progress on the incidence of the disease is not enough and the rates across all age groups are still too high.
We still have very high numbers of people in hospital and in intensive care, we have implemented the National Critical Care Surge Plans, and we simply must reduce the numbers of people needing these services.
Our hospitals are under enormous pressure and we must protect the women and men of our health service who continue to put themselves on the line for all of us every day and every night.
It is very clear to everyone now, all across the EU, that the emergence of new variants of the disease represents a dangerous development.
We cannot give the virus or its variants any space.
Therefore, Government has decided to extend all of the current level 5 restrictions until 5th March, with a view to crushing the numbers of those contracting the disease and in turn, the numbers needing hospitalisation and ICU.
The message to people for the next six weeks is very simple: STAY AT HOME.
Do not travel.
Do not make any journeys outside of your 5km unless you absolutely have to.
Hold firm and stick to the basics.
Another important issue that we have been examining is the issue of travel into the country.
I understand the appeal of the idea that there is a simple answer to the pandemic in our country. We just pull up the drawbridge and we’ll be back to normal in no time.
However, the truth is that there is no easy way through this pandemic, or out of it.
The number of travellers coming into our country has absolutely collapsed and we have taken a number of decisions today designed to further suppress that number, which I will explain in a moment.
But I first want to reinforce the key message that the most important thing we can do to drive down infections is to STAY HOME and follow the basics around social distance and hand hygiene.
As I said before, people should not be travelling and the Government has made a number of decisions today to further restrict travel and to mitigate the risk of new variants coming into the country:
There should be no non-essential travel. Non essential travel outside of 5km is a clear breach of the level 5 restrictions.
Additional Gardaí will be deployed to our ports and airports and those found to be in breach of this regulation will be subject to an increased fine of €500.
All visa free short term travel from South Africa and all of South America is suspended until at least 5th March.
Mandatory quarantine at a designated facility will be required for passengers who arrive in breach of the pre-departure negative PCR requirement. They will also be subject to a fine of €2,500 and / or six months imprisonment.
Similarly, mandatory quarantine at a designated facility will be required for persons who arrive from Brazil and South Africa.
In other cases, passengers will be required by law to quarantine at home.
Application of these measures to passengers who are not EU/EEA citizens can be introduced by regulations. For all other passengers, it will be necessary to amend primary legislation. The detailed legislative work to implement this will get under way immediately.
These regulations will apply to anyone who travels into the Republic from any port or airport on the island, including port and airports in Northern Ireland and policing of the regulations will be increased significantly.
The restrictions on people’s movement and people’s freedom are exceptionally difficult.
The true toll that they are taking on people’s mental health and well being is as yet unknown, but it is significant.
Now, more than ever, all of us who have a leadership role – across the political spectrum, in the media, in communities, everyone in society – we must stay focussed on the measures that will bring the disease under control and which we as country are in a position to deliver.
The road we are on is hard.
The length of time that we have had to live with restrictions and the proximity of vaccination makes it even harder.
But it is the road we must take, together.
We have done it before and we can do it again.