DUBLIN, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced on Tuesday that his government has decided to extend the current Level-5 or the highest-level restrictions until March 5 in order to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, particularly hospitalization and ICU (intensive care unit) figures.
Announcing the decision at a government press briefing, Martin also said that existing regulations requiring pre-departure COVID-19 tests for international arrivals will also be extended to March 5.
All those who arrive in Ireland in breach of the pre-departure test requirement will have to be quarantined at a designated facility for up to 14 days on top of a fine of 2,500 euros (about 3,000 U.S. dollars) or six-month imprisonment, he said, adding that those who come from Brazil and South Africa will also have to be quarantined at a designated facility for a similar period of time regardless of their COVID-19 test results.
The government has also decided to suspend all visa-free short-term travel from South Africa, Brazil and other South American countries until March 5 in order to mitigate the risk of new COVID-19 variants coming into the country, he noted.
Earlier this month, the government has made it mandatory that passengers arriving in Ireland from all countries, whether by air or by sea, will have to provide evidence of a negative result of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival.
Most of the people arriving in Ireland except those who are subject to other regulations will also have to self-quarantine for 14 days, but this may be lifted on receipt of a negative COVID-19 test result taken no less than five days after arrival, according to current rules.
The Level-5 restrictions, introduced on Christmas Eve in 2020, would have expired at the end of January if not due to deteriorating COVID-19 situation in the country.
Under the Level-5 restrictions, people's movement is restricted to be within five kilometers of their home unless for some essential reasons, while all non-essential retail outlets and most of the indoor cultural and recreational facilities are ordered to be closed, bringing the country virtually to a standstill.
Ireland has been placed under such a nationwide knockdown for the third time since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020.
The Irish Department of Health on Tuesday reported another 928 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 90 more deaths related to the virus in the country.
To date, the total numbers of confirmed cases and COVID-19-related deaths in Ireland stand at 189,851 and 3,066 respectively, said the department in a statement.
According to the statement, as of Tuesday afternoon, there are 1,750 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the country, of which 216 are in ICU, both figures representing the highest levels since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Earlier on Tuesday, Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told local media that as of last Sunday over 140,000 people in the country had been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines.
According to the minister, the government expects to receive 3.7 million doses of vaccines by the end of June and another 3.8 million doses by the end of September, which will allow up to four million people in the country get the two-dose vaccine by the end of the third quarter.
Ireland's estimated population stood at about 4.98 million at the end of April 2020, according to the national statistics bureau CSO.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in Ireland and some other countries with the already-authorized COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, 236 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 63 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Jan. 26.