Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the move to a full Level 5 lockdown on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to get the latest surge in cases of Covid-19 under control.
Just eight days after the Government announced that the country would move to Level 5 restrictions, with restaurants, hotels and gastro pubs shutting their doors on Christmas Eve, the Taoiseach announced the move to a full Level 5 lockdown for the four-week period until January 31.
In a televised address, Mr Martin said that it is clear that we are dealing with a new strain of the virus, confirmed to be in Ireland on Christmas Eve, that spreads “much more quickly”.
He said that it is “obvious” that the faster spread of the new strain of the virus poses a threat to the health system being overwhelmed and that the latest surge is different to the second wave as “we are seeing rising incidents of the disease across all age groups”.
“During the second wave, there was a long delay between an increase in cases and an increase in hospital admissions,” he said, but that “this time is very different” with hospitalisations almost doubling in just one week.
He said that the situation is “extremely serious” and that the number of cases will deteriorate further over the coming days.
“It is growing exponentially”, he said.
“The truth is, with the presence of the new strain and the pace of growth, this is not a time for nuance in our response,” he said.
The Level 5 restrictions in place from midnight on Wednesday include a ban on all household visits, the closure of non-essential retail at 6pm on Thursday and a 5km limit on travel.
Schools are to remain closed until January 11 under revised plans agreed by Cabinet, a move that the National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) had called for.
Primary and secondary schools had been due to reopen on Wednesday January 6 but will now reopen five days later in order to give families the chance to limit their contacts before children return to school.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire called on the Government to use the extra time afforded by the extension of school holidays “must be used to bring clarity and assurances to parents, teachers and pupils”.
"We need to use the next 12 days to do all we can to try to address very significant concerns, and plan for a safe reopening.
"We need a clear roadmap for them to reopen too - parents will fear that we will see a repeat of the first lockdown, which saw school buildings close for months,” he said.
He said that public health advice is needed and that Minister for Education Norma Foley “needs to demonstrate how she will address these concerns”.
Sinn Féin has sought a meeting with Minister Foley in the coming days to discuss such issues.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that people will be facing the “strictest controls in the depth of winter” and that it is going to be “very difficult for everyone” but that vaccines are now being administered “efficiently and safely” across the country.
“For the first time since this awful disease landed on our shores, we finally have an end in sight,” he said.