DUBLIN — Prime Minister Micheál Martin extended Ireland’s pandemic lockdown for a further six weeks Tuesday, appealing to a “completely fed up” nation not to drop its guard against coronavirus.
“I know that people are physically and emotionally exhausted by this pandemic. It has placed enormous pressure on each of us,” Martin said in a live TV address from the front steps of his office. “Businesses and workers are deeply worried about the future. We are all completely fed up with the impositions on our lives.”
But he said the more infectious B117 variant that has spread from England since Christmas now represents nine-tenths of new Irish cases.
“It’s equivalent to a new virus almost, and it is a major problem,” Martin said as he appealed for people’s patience not to break. “It is critically important that we do not let our guard down. When we open things, we want them to stay open.”
He spoke after his Cabinet published a new lockdown plan following weeks of behind-the-scenes haggling in a country where many businesses, including thousands of pubs, have been closed for nearly a year. The government has spent more than €10 billion keeping shuttered firms on life support and wages flowing to more than 600,000 laid-off workers.
The plan extends most existing lockdown measures imposed in late December, when Ireland’s previously low infection rate surged to the worst worldwide. They include an instruction that people should venture out only for essential reasons and should not travel more than 5 kilometers from their homes.
While those measures have slowed transmission rates in recent weeks, the death toll keeps mounting. It rose Tuesday by 45 to 4,181 dead.
The Cabinet did agree to reopen schools and crèches gradually starting in March, with all classes resuming in-person education following the traditional Easter break ending on April 5.
Ireland’s vaccination program has proceeded slowly, with about 220,000 people in this country of 4.9 million receiving their first jab.
“So far our only limit has been supply,” said Martin, who vowed that 1 million people would be inoculated each month starting in March. This would mean at least 55 percent of adults “fully vaccinated” by the end of June.
“We will get through this,” he said.
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