A new clampdown on movement in Ireland has been announced amid fears critical care hospitals will soon be overwhelmed by coronavirus.
In a televised address to the country on Friday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar imposed a range of further restrictions for the next two weeks.
He ordered people to remain in their homes in all but a limited set of specific circumstances.
Those include travelling to or from work deemed to be essential, food shopping, medical appointments, brief exercise and vital family reasons.
Mr Varadkar said all people over the age of 70, and other people considered vulnerable to the disease, would also be “cocooned” for the period until Sunday April 12.
“These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible in the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
“We’re not prisoners of fate. We can influence what’s going to happen to us next. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
The measures were announced hours after three further deaths were confirmed in the state – one of them was the first healthcare worker to die.
The death toll now stands at 22. There were 302 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 announced on Friday, taking the total in Ireland to 2,121.
People who do leave their homes for exercise will be required to stay within a 2km radius.
The Taoiseach said a list of essential work would be published.
He said social visits to relatives beyond the family unit at home would not be allowed.
Mr Varadkar said there was not much else the government could do to restrict movement.
“There is not much more we could do in terms of restrictive measures,” he said.
He said health chiefs were concerned that more than 50% of the confirmed cases in Ireland involved community transmission and that clusters were developing in places such as nursing homes and residential care settings.
“We believe that now is the time for these further actions,” he said.
“I said there would be a calm before the storm. And the aim of every single action that we’ve taken is to reduce the impact of that storm in our country, to slow the virus down, to push it back and to contain it.”
Mr Varadkar highlighted that gardai had powers to police the restrictions but he expressed hope they would be achieved with the “consent and co-operation” of the public.
He acknowledged that freedom had been “hard won” in Ireland.
“I’m asking people to give meaning to our freedom and liberty by agreeing to these restrictions, restricting how we live our lives, so that others may live,” he said.
Health Minister Simon Harris acknowledged the steps would mean “intensive and difficult changes” for people’s way of life.
He said introducing the measures now may mean they would ultimately last for a shorter period than if they were put in place later in the outbreak.
“We need to stay the course and, put simply, we need to stay at home,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Varadkar warned that intensive care units will be at capacity “in a number of days”.
He said that while there are currently a number of empty beds, the situation would change over the coming days, adding that it would become “very difficult”.
“The way things are heading indicate that ICU will be at capacity in a number of days.
“That’s already the case around Europe, it may happen here. We have to plan for that.
“We need to make sure we have capacity, ventilators, all of those things.
On Friday night, President Michael D Higgins signed into a law a sweeping package of emergency legislation to deal with the crisis.
The measures include income support, eviction bans and rent freezes.
Mr Varadkar said the total death toll from coronavirus was “impossible to predict”.
He added: “We are only still learning about it. But if you take the average flu season in Ireland, there would usually be around 500 deaths, if you take a bad flu season in Ireland there would roughly be 1,000 deaths.
“It would be a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise, if the number of deaths at the end of this was less than 1,000.”
President Higgins signed the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 after its passage through both houses of the Oireachtas parliament in Dublin.
It includes measures to provide income support for workers, prevent evictions and implement a rent freeze throughout the health crisis.
The President said the laws reflected a time of crisis.
“Extraordinary and difficult measures have been necessary as we try to stem the tide of increasing infection,” he said.
“The effects of those measures will become visible in the coming weeks.
“The legislation is emergency legislation for a time of crisis. It is appropriate that it has time limits and leaves our constitutional rights in place.
“These are difficult times, but our difficulties will come to an end. Let us make sure that, through the decisions and actions we take at present, we ensure the health and safety of each other, all of us together.”