dpa/GNA – Almost two months into Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the country “is looking at a continuation of severe restrictions” until the end of April, despite case numbers already plummeting since a January peak.

Martin made the warning in a late-night Thursday interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, in which he said extending the lockdown would be “worth it.”

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party, slammed Martin’s comments as “flippant.” Peadar Toibin, head of Aontu, a small opposition party, said the government’s proposed extension amounted to “policy failure.”

The lockdown bans people from travelling more than 5 kilometres from their homes unless for “essential” journeys. Many businesses have been forced to close, with unemployment hitting a near-record 27 per cent in January.

Restaurants and hairdressers are likely to be kept shut long after any late-April easing of restrictions, Martin warned, claiming Ireland is vulnerable to a “British variant” he deemed “highly transmissible.”

Martin, whose official title is taoiseach, said that Covid vaccines mean “light at the end of the tunnel” – though in common with much of Europe, Ireland’s roll-out has been glacial, lagging far behind neighbouring Britain.

Ireland’s cumulative virus case number jumped from around 93,000 on January 1 to almost 200,000 a month later, though numbers announced on Thursday showed only 12,000 more cases added during February.

The Central Statistics Office said on Friday that virus-related hospitalizations and intensive care admissions have been falling since early January.

Ireland’s virus-related death toll topped 4,000 this week, with over 1,500 deaths reported in nursing homes by early February.

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