First Wave: February–AugustEdit
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), a group within the Department of Health, began monitoring the spread of the virus before it was confirmed to have reached Ireland. According to The Irish Times, the NPHET for COVID-19 was created on 27 January 2020. The Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group—a subgroup of NPHET chaired by Dr Cillian de Gascun, the UCD-based Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory – met for the first time on 5 February in Dublin.
In late February, the Department of Health stated that Ireland was in the Containment Phase of its strategy against the virus, though media briefings with such figures with Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan were already underway.
On 27 February, the first case on the island of Ireland was announced—a woman from Belfast who had travelled from Northern Italy through Dublin Airport. Two days later, on 29 February, the first confirmed case in the Republic of Ireland was announced involving a male student from the east of the country, who had arrived there from Northern Italy. Authorities shut a secondary school linked to the case as a precautionary measure. The State did not name the school involved, but—shortly afterwards—the Irish Examiner‘s Political Editor, Daniel McConnell, tweeted a copy of the letter it had sent to parents informing them it would close. NPHET continued to meet after the virus had arrived in Ireland to co-ordinate the national response to the pandemic.
On 12 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the closure of all schools, colleges and childcare facilities until 29 March. The announcement, which came one day after the World Health Organization formally declared that the outbreak was a pandemic, also marked Ireland’s movement from the Containment Phase in its strategy to combat the spread of the virus (a strategy which the Department of the Taoiseach had reaffirmed just three days earlier) towards the Delay Phase.
On 18 March, detailed information about hospital statistics, age range affected, how COVID-19 was spreading, healthcare workers and cases by county was published by the National Public Health Emergency Team starting on this day. It showed that the virus was present in 23 of the 26 counties, with Laois, Leitrim and Monaghan the only three yet to record a case.
On 26 March, 255 cases and 10 deaths were confirmed, bringing the totals to 1,819 cases and 19 deaths, more than double the previous day’s total. According to Chief Medical Officer Holohan, most of the deaths occurred in “institutional settings”, i.e. hospitals and nursing homes. At this point, deaths began to increase rapidly.
On 27 March, 302 new cases as well as 3 new deaths brought the total number of confirmed cases and deaths to 2,121 and 22, respectively. Among the deaths was the country’s first healthcare worker fatality, who was based in the east of the country. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a national stay-at-home order with a series of measures which he summed up as: “Stay at Home”. Merrion Street described it as “a more intensive phase in our response to COVID-19”. The measures, which coincided with an escalating death toll, were also a response to increased reliance on intensive care units (ICUs) to treat critically ill patients, and an attempt to lower this number before capacity was reached.
On 1 April, it was announced that Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, who displayed signs of illness during the previous evening’s news conference, had entered hospital for non-COVID reasons; Ronan Glynn (Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Head of the Department of Health’s Health Protection Unit) took charge.
On 10 April, it was reported that there was a discrepancy between the number of cases confirmed by Ireland’s Department of Health and the ECDC, due to swab tests sent to Germany for analysis to clear the backlog and testing in Ireland. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that measures introduced on 27 March would be extended until at least 5 May.
On 14 April, Minister for Health Simon Harris said between 25,000 and 30,000 tests had been sent to Germany and “well over” half of the results had been returned, with the remainder due back by next week. The National Public Health Emergency Team said there would be a “real danger” of a second wave of virus cases, if the changing of restrictions was not done correctly.
On 15 April, a further 657 cases, together with an additional 411 cases from the backlog of tests at the laboratory in Germany, and 38 deaths were reported, bringing the totals to 12,547 cases and 444 deaths. Among the deaths announced, a 23-year-old said to be the youngest person to have died in the country at the time. Also on this date, a spokesperson for the Ireland East Hospital Group confirmed the deaths of two healthcare workers, a man and a woman, at the same hospital in Kilkenny, the man having died at home the previous day and the woman having died in the hospital that day.
On 21 April, Chief Medical Officer Holohan announced that 8,377 people had recovered in the community and that 856 people were discharged from hospital. He also announced that the curve had flattened and that no peak would be coming.
On 29 April, a further 376 cases and 31 deaths were reported, bringing the end of April totals to 20,253 cases and 1,190 deaths. Holohan said, “We estimate that as of Saturday 25th April 12,222 COVID-19 cases (64%) in the community have recovered. 1,164 cases (6%) have been discharged from hospital which gives us a total recovery rate of 70%.”
On 1 May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the extension of the current restrictions to 18 May at the earliest. A roadmap to easing restrictions in Ireland that includes five stages was adopted by the government and subsequently published online.
On 15 May, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan announced seven children in Ireland had been identified with links to paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a new illness temporarily associated with COVID-19. The Government of Ireland confirmed that phase one of easing the COVID-19 restrictions would begin on Monday 18 May. Among the heritage sites reopening under phase one were Cong Abbey, Farmleigh, Kilkenny Castle, Knocknarea, the National Botanic Gardens and Trim Castle.
On 18 May, the government’s roadmap of easing COVID-19 restrictions began.
On 31 May, a further 66 cases and 2 deaths were reported, bringing the end of May totals to 24,990 cases and 1,652 deaths.
On 5 June, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a series of changes to the government’s roadmap of easing COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland, which he summed up as: “Stay Local”. The Government of Ireland confirmed that “phase two plus” of easing the COVID-19 restrictions would begin on Monday 8 June.
On 29 June, phase three of the government’s roadmap of easing COVID-19 restrictions began. Remaining businesses reopened including all pubs serving food, cafés, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, beauty salons and tourist attractions.
On 30 June, a further 11 cases and 1 death were reported, bringing the end of June totals to 25,473 cases and 1,736 deaths.
On 7 July, the Health Service Executive released the COVID Tracker contact tracing app that uses ENS and Bluetooth technology to record if a user is in close contact with another user, by exchanging anonymous codes, with over one million downloads within two days after its launch.
On 31 July, a further 38 cases and no deaths were reported, bringing the end of July totals to 26,065 cases and 1,763 deaths.
On 12 August, it was announced that the Government of Ireland intended to move away from the phases of re-opening the country, and switch to a colour-coded system planned by the National Public Health Emergency Team to indicate how counties, regions and the country as a whole are currently affected by COVID-19.
Second Wave: August–DecemberEdit
On 7 August, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a series of measures for counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly following significant increases of COVID-19 cases in the three counties, which came into effect from midnight and would remain in place for two weeks.
On 18 August, following a Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings, the Government of Ireland announced six new measures because of the growing number of confirmed cases, which remained in place until 15 September.
On 31 August, the Government of Ireland announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in County Kildare with immediate effect. A further 53 cases and no deaths were reported, bringing the totals at the end of August to 28,811 cases and 1,777 deaths.
On 15 September, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl announced that the entire government would have to restrict their movements after Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly felt unwell and contacted his GP for a COVID-19 test. Just after 9pm, it was announced that Donnelly tested negative for COVID-19 and that the government no longer needed to restrict their movements.
Also on 15 September, the Government of Ireland announced a medium-term plan for living with COVID-19 that includes five levels of restrictions, with the entire country at Level 2 and specific restrictions in Dublin including the postponement of the reopening of pubs not serving food.
Resilience and recovery 2020-2021: Plan for living with COVID-19, announced on 15 September 2020.
On 18 September, following an announcement at Government Buildings, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that Dublin would move to Level 3 restrictions from midnight and would remain in place for three weeks until 9 October.
On 24 September, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that Donegal would move to Level 3 restrictions from the midnight of 25 September and would remain in place for three weeks until 16 October, with pubs remaining open for takeaway, delivery and outdoor dining to a maximum of 15 people only.
On 30 September, a further 429 cases and 1 death were reported, bringing the totals at the end of September to 36,155 cases and 1,804 deaths.
On 4 October, in a letter sent to the Government of Ireland, the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the highest level of restrictions for the entire country – Level 5 for four weeks, following a NPHET meeting chaired by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan. On 5 October, the Government rejected NPHET’s recommendation to place the entire country under Level 5 restrictions, and instead moved every county in Ireland to Level 3 COVID-19 restrictions with improved enforcement and indoor dining in pubs and restaurants banned, which will come into effect from the midnight of 6 October until 27 October at the earliest.
On 14 October, the Government of Ireland agreed a nationwide ban on all household visits from the night of Thursday 15 October, except for essential reasons such as childcare and on compassionate grounds. Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that counties Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan would move to Level 4 restrictions from the midnight of 15 October.
After 1,205 cases—the highest number of confirmed cases recorded in a single day since 10 April—was confirmed by the Department of Health on 15 October, on 16 October, the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended to the Government of Ireland to move the entire country to Level 5 restrictions for six weeks.
On 31 October, a further 416 cases and 5 deaths were reported, bringing the totals at the end of October to 61,456 cases and 1,913 deaths.
On 27 November, the Government of Ireland agreed the approach for easing restrictions, including a phased move to Level 3 restrictions nationally from midnight on Tuesday 1 December, with a number of exceptions in place for the Christmas period from 18 December.
- From 1 December:
- Non-essential retail, hairdressers, gyms, leisure centres, museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and places of worship will reopen.
- Households should not mix with any other households outside those within their bubble.
- People should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes.
- Face coverings will be recommended to be worn in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where there is significant congregation.
- From 4 December:
- Restaurants, cafés, gastropubs and hotel restaurants may reopen for indoor dining with additional restrictions.
- Pubs not serving food will remain closed except for takeaway and delivery.
- From 18 December to 6 January 2021:
- Households can mix with up to two other households.
- Travel outside of your county to be permitted.
On 30 November, a further 306 cases and 1 death were reported, bringing the totals at the end of November to 72,544 cases and 2,053 deaths.
On 1 December, all non-essential retail shops, hair and beauty providers, gyms and leisure centres, cinemas, museums and galleries reopened after six weeks of closure. Meanwhile, the Government of Ireland approved an advance purchase agreement for 875,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Moderna.
Third Wave: December 2020–April 2021Edit
On 17 December, the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended to the Government of Ireland that the period of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions from 18 December be shortened to the end of the year as COVID-19 cases rise.
On 21 December, speaking at a COVID-19 press briefing, the Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Philip Nolan announced that a third wave of COVID-19 in Ireland was clearly underway.
On 22 December, the Government of Ireland agreed to move the entire country to Level 5 lockdown restrictions with a number of adjustments from Christmas Eve until 12 January 2021 at the earliest.
- Under Level 5 restrictions:
- Restaurants and gastro-pubs must close at 3pm on 24 December (Christmas Eve).
- Hotels may provide food and bar services to guests only after 3pm on Christmas Eve. Hotels may only open to guests for essential purposes after 26 December.
- Up until 26 December (St Stephen’s Day), visits from up to two other households will be permitted. Household visits will be reduced to one other household from 27 December.
- From 1 January, no household mixing will be allowed except for compassionate, care or childcare reasons.
- Non-essential retail will remain open but shops will be requested to defer January sales events.
- No new inter-county travel will be allowed after 26 December.
- Personal services, including hairdressers and barbers must close.
- Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will remain open for individual training only.
- Schools will return as normal in January after the Christmas break.
- Travel restrictions from the United Kingdom will remain in place until 31 December.
On 23 December, in a statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team, the Chair of the NPHET Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group Cillian de Gascun announced that the new variant of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom was now present in the Republic of Ireland, based on a selection of samples analysed from the weekend. Two days later on 25 December (Christmas Day), Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan officially confirmed that the new UK variant of COVID-19 had been detected in the Republic of Ireland by whole genome sequencing at the National Virus Reference Laboratory in University College Dublin. By week 2 of 2021, the variant had become the dominant strain in Ireland.
- Under additional Level 5 restrictions:
- All schools to remain closed after the Christmas break until 11 January 2021. Childcare facilities and crèches to remain open.
- All non-essential retail and services must close from 6pm on 31 December.
- People must stay at home except for work, education or other essential purposes, and will be allowed to exercise within 5km of home.
- Travel restrictions from the United Kingdom to remain in place until 6 January 2021.
On 31 December, a further 1,620 cases and 12 deaths were reported, bringing the end of 2020 totals to 91,779 cases and 2,237 deaths.
On 2 January 2021, it was revealed that there were approximately 9,000 positive COVID-19 tests not yet logged on the HSE‘s IT systems, due to both limitations in the software; and lack of staff to check and input details, meaning there is an effective ceiling of approximately 1,700 to 2,000 cases that can be logged each day.
On 6 January, the Government of Ireland agreed a number of new lockdown measures including the closure of all schools until February with Leaving Certificate students allowed to attend school for three days a week, the closure of all non-essential construction sites with certain exceptions at 6pm on 8 January, the requirement from 9 January for all passengers from the UK and South Africa to have a negative PCR test that they acquired within 72 hours of travelling and the prohibition of click-and-collect services for non-essential retail. One day after the announcement, the Government was forced to abandon plans for Leaving Certificate students to attend school on three days a week, and instead students would return to homeschooling along with other students until February, after the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) directed its members not to return to in-school teaching.
On 8 January, in a statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan confirmed that three cases of the South African variant of COVID-19 had been detected in the Republic of Ireland by whole genome sequencing associated with travel from South Africa.
On 26 January, the Government of Ireland announced the extension of the Level 5 lockdown restrictions until 5 March, along with a number of new measures including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all people travelling into the country without a negative COVID-19 test, including all arrivals from Brazil and South Africa.
On 30 January, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan announced that more cases had been confirmed in one month than throughout 2020 with over 1,000 deaths and more than 100,000 cases confirmed in January. On the same day, the Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian de Gascun stated that there was no significant transmission of the South African COVID-19 variant in Ireland as cases of the variant identified had been contained.
On 31 January, a further 1,247 cases and 15 deaths were reported, bringing the end of January totals to 196,547 cases and 3,307 deaths.
On 19 February, in a statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn confirmed that three cases of the Brazilian variant of COVID-19 had been detected in the Republic of Ireland all associated with travel from Brazil.
On 23 February, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the extension of Level 5 lockdown restrictions for another six weeks until 5 April (Easter Monday) at the earliest as the Government of Ireland published its new revised Living with COVID-19 plan, which includes the phased reopening of schools and childcare and the extension of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.
COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Path Ahead, announced on 23 February 2021:
On 25 February, the Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian de Gascun confirmed that the first case of the B.1.525 variant of COVID-19, first identified in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, had been detected in the Republic of Ireland, while a further four cases of the South African variant had been detected, bringing the total to 15.
On 28 February, Ireland officially marked one year since the first case of COVID-19 in the country was confirmed on 29 February 2020. A further 612 cases and 6 deaths were reported, bringing the end of February totals to 219,592 cases and 4,319 deaths.
On 30 March, the Government of Ireland announced a phased easing of Level 5 restrictions from Monday 12 April, with people allowed to travel within their county, two households allowed to meet socially outdoors, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 allowed to meet other fully vaccinated people indoors, and the resumption of all residential construction projects from that date.
- Elite-level senior GAA matches and training could resume
- From 26 April:
- Outdoor sports facilities (such as pitches, golf courses and tennis courts) could reopen
- Outdoor visitor attractions (such as zoos, open pet farms, heritage sites) could reopen
- Maximum attendance at funerals would increase from 10 to 25 on compassionate grounds
- From 4 May:
- Full reopening of construction activity
- Phased reopening of non-essential retail and personal services
- Religious services, museums and galleries could reopen and resume
On 31 March, a further 411 cases and 6 deaths were reported, bringing the end of March totals to 235,854 cases and 4,687 deaths.
On 19 April, the Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian de Gascun confirmed that three cases of the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, had been detected in the Republic of Ireland.
On 29 April, the Government of Ireland announced a reopening plan for the country throughout May and June from 10 May, with inter-county travel allowed, the reopening of all hairdressers, libraries, museums and galleries, up to 50 people allowed to attend religious services, the resumption of click-and-collect services and the allowances of three households to meet outdoors (including in private gardens) and a vaccinated household to meet an unvaccinated household indoors from that date.
- From 17 May
- From 2 June
- Hotels, B&Bs, self-catering and hostels could reopen but services must be restricted to overnight guests and residents
- From 7 June
- Outdoor sports matches could recommence with no spectators permitted
- Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres could reopen for individual training only
- Outdoor services in restaurants and bars could recommence, with groups limited to a maximum of 6 people
- The numbers of guests attending wedding celebrations/receptions could increase to 25
- Visitors from one other household could be permitted in private homes
On 30 April, a further 545 cases and 4 deaths were reported, bringing the end of April totals to 248,870 cases and 4,903 deaths.