Kildare, Laois and Offaly placed under new coronavirus restrictions
The taoiseach has announced fresh restrictions for counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly following a surge of coronavirus cases.
In a special address to the nation Micheál Martin said the virus was still a "deep and urgent threat".
He said a number of limited restrictions will apply to the three counties for two weeks from midnight.
These include restricting movement within the counties, with the exception of work purposes and other essential journeys; restaurants and pubs serving food to close, apart from takeaway services, deliveries and limited outdoor dining; and the closure of indoor entertainment and sport venues such as cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries and bingo halls.
Visits to prisons, acute hospitals and nursing homes will be suspended except on compassionate grounds.
People have been asked not to travel to those counties unless for work.
However, retail shops can remain open with the wearing of face masks, and childcare and schools that are open can remain open.
Outdoor amenities including playgrounds will also remain open with social distancing.
"Households in these counties are asked to restrict visitors to their homes to no more than six people from no more than three households," Mr Martin said.
"Outdoor gatherings should be limited to 15 for organised activities."
Mr Martin added: "We are conscious that as we move forward through this pandemic our responses need to be more nuanced and more sustainable."
He said the Republic is "still doing well by international standards" but described localised clusters as "a serious concern".
The Republic's chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, said that as of this evening there had been 289 cases of coronavirus recorded in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly over the last 14 days.
"NPHET (the National Public Health Emergency Team) met this morning to assess the situation in these counties. Following this assessment, NPHET agreed that certain conditions had been met within this region and that action was now required to control the spread of the disease, and that additional public health measures must now be taken," he said.
"We are taking these steps now to contain further spread and to ensure, insofar as is possible, that schools and non-Covid health services can reopen and continue to resume over the coming weeks and months.
"NPHET believes that this package of measures today represents a proactive and proportionate response to the evolving situation.
"I fully understand that today's decision will be very disappointing and will cause significant disruption for many of the people in these counties who have already made very significant personal sacrifices in supporting the public health measures throughout this time.
"But we believe that today's measures will help us to control the disease and we are hopeful that they will only need to be in place for the next two weeks, as currently recommended."
The Department of Health daily update on Friday included notification of another four deaths and 98 new cases - bringing the total number of deaths in Ireland to 1,772, and the number of confirmed cases to 26,470.
Meanwhile a food processing plant in Co Kildare has announced further cases of coronavirus among its workers.
O'Brien Fine Foods said it stopped operations at its Timohoe facility at 9pm on Wednesday after 80 workers tested positive for coronavirus.
On Friday, the firm announced a further six cases of coronavirus have been detected, adding in a statement that the "level of asymptomatic infectivity appears to be very high".
Earlier Paddy Mallon, a Professor of Microbial Diseases at UCD said the country has reached a "critical point".
"The HSE has put a huge amount of work into creating a testing and contact using system," he told RTE Radio One.
"One of the really noticeable things from the most recent outbreak is the number of people that are coming up positive that don't have symptoms.
"It may be that people are sitting at home, they've been advised that they've been a close contact and they say I don't have symptoms and don't need to be tested.
"But data shows you do need to be tested, not so much because of the fact that you may not get sick but if you have the virus and you have no symptoms, you're just as likely to have the same amount of virus, and have it for the same amount of time as someone who does have symptoms.
"So you're just as infectious.
"The key is picking up people that have little or no symptoms, finding out that they have the virus, and isolating them is the key to really controlling this epidemic and stopping these outbreaks spreading into widespread community transmission which is a big concern."
Meanwhile, chairman of the NPHET Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan, said that the reproduction number of the virus is now estimated to be 1.8.