COVID-19 lockdown extended in one of three affected Irish counties

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will keep strict COVID-19 restrictions in place for another two weeks in Kildare, one of three counties where they were reimposed earlier this month, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Friday.

Ireland closed or limited business on Aug. 7 in three of its 26 counties, Kildare, Laois and Offaly. A wider spread of the disease since then led to a significant tightening in nationwide restrictions this week.

Ireland has reopened its economy at a slower pace than most European Union countries and had one of the lowest number of cases in the bloc until the level of infection grew at the third-highest rate in Europe this week.

“The spread of the virus is being suppressed (in the three counties), we all owe them a debt of gratitude ... The number of new cases in Kildare have stabilised and are falling but are nonetheless still high,” Donnelly told a news conference.

The clusters in Kildare primarily started in food processing plants and accommodation for asylum seekers, many of whom work in the factories. Those outbreaks have been largely brought under control, Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said.

Kildare’s 14-day cumulative cases per 100,000 of population stood at 200 compared to an average of 27 across the country, twice as high as the local rate when the lockdown was announced.

The restrictions, which mean residents can only leave their county in very limited circumstances, were lifted in Laois and Offaly, Donnelly added.

Ireland last week boosted grants available to COVID-19-hit firms in the three counties and business minister Leo Varadkar said the government was topping up the grants again to help businesses in Kildare.

“The businesses need hard cash now to remain open and hopefully survive into the winter months,” County Kildare Chamber Chief Executive Allan Shine told Reuters.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Giles Elgood and Catherine Evans