This evening the government has met to discuss the current situation in relation to COVID-19 and measures to contain it.
The facts show that there is an exponential increase in the rate of transmission right across the country.
We all must respond.
I want to outline very clearly the approach which we are taking and to talk with you about the role which each of us has to play.
This virus has had a profound impact on almost every aspect of our society.
Until there is an effective vaccine and it has been widely distributed the virus will continue to have an impact.
No matter how much we want to forget the virus, and move on with our lives, we must continue to manage it, and protect ourselves.
As our public health officials have pointed out, there has been a significant and serious rise in the number of cases.
And this is still a virus which is deadly and can cause lasting harm even to those who overcome it.
Three weeks ago, I launched the government’s strategy to balance our response to the virus while protecting of the social, economic and cultural life of our country as much as possible.
Copies of this plan have been sent to every home and have been made available in every public office.
At the core of our approach are a series of graduated levels.
These allow us to respond flexibly and appropriately to new trends in the spread and impact of the virus.
This ensures that we look at all aspects of measures before they are implemented.
It gives everybody a fair opportunity to plan and respond.
The government has been informed by NPHET that recent trends in most parts of the country are a major concern.
If we do not alter these trends there will be a serious impact.
There is no doubt whatsoever about this.
So, we must respond and the challenge is to be as effective and proportionate as possible.
As is intended in the procedures we published last month, we have held detailed discussions since receiving NPHET’s recommendation to move straight to a Level 5 lockdown.
Central to our discussions, has been looking at the wider implications of moving immediately to Level 5 rather than realising the full potential impact of lower level restrictions.
It’s important to understand that we are in a very different situation to last March.
The economic, social and non-COVID health impacts of the response must be different now.
Businesses are beginning to recover and vital public health services are back logged.
Severe restrictions now, will have a very damaging effect, which they may not be able to recover from.
That said, the government has decided to increase the level of controls in most of the country and to step-up efforts to ensure compliance with guidelines.
This is in accordance with the government’s planned approach.
As part of this we have decided, at this stage, not to move to a more comprehensive lockdown.
It’s important to understand that the potential implications of such a move, are severe and very different from those we faced earlier this year.
It could involve the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, with these concentrated in families and communities which are already facing difficulties.
An immediate comprehensive lockdown would make it much harder to deal with non-COVID health concerns including the impact of isolation on the mental health of many of our people.
But it is essential that steps be taken, and taken now to bring down the rate of infection and to limit the numbers who require hospitalisation and critical care.
That is why, as of tomorrow at 12 midnight all parts of the country will move to Level Three of the government’s Framework for Restrictive Measures for a period of three weeks.
The second part of the response is to step-up measures to increase compliance with guidelines.
The evidence is very clear that most people are following guidelines in limiting their activities and reducing the risk that they might spread or catch the virus.
However, there is also no doubt that some are taking a more lax attitude.
Whether, it is about inviting others to our homes or how we behave in public settings, the virus is spreading because people are allowing it to spread.
In the coming days we will be increasing the levels of public guidance on compliance and will work more closely with all sectors and stakeholders to ensure that measures are fully implemented so that we get maximum impact.
I understand how frustrated people are and how the yearning for normality grows stronger all the time.
However, COVID-19 is still deadly and we cannot ignore the threat it still poses.
Up to 2,400 people have already lost their lives on this island. We cannot and should not forget this.
It has challenged us to our very core, but we have shown that we can be resilient.
The road ahead will continue to have many turns. It will challenge us in new ways.
This is not about public health and businesses competing against each other, it’s about protecting lives and livelihoods.
We can’t do one without the other.
I believe that we all understand what we have to do, and I have confidence that we can have the impact this requires and we need to do it now.
If we all act now, we can stop the need to go further, and introduce Level 4 and 5 restrictions.
I have no doubt that we can and will get through this.
We will reach a time when we can again go about our lives without worrying if we might catch or transmit this terrible virus.
And the most important thing for us all to understand is that what will happen rests in our own hands and in our responsibility to each other.
Whether or not you are afraid of the virus every one of us can have an impact on the lives of others.
The spirit of community, of caring for others, lies at the heart of what’s best in the Irish character.
Now, as much as ever before we have to recommit ourselves to this spirit.