Dublin, Ireland
Dublin, IrelandiStock

Ireland will be the first EU country to return to coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said Monday, as he issued a nationwide "stay at home" order but insisted schools will stay open.

Measures coming into effect for six weeks from midnight on Wednesday will see all non-essential retail businesses close and bars and restaurants limited to takeaway service only, AFP reported.

"Everyone in the country is being asked to stay at home," Martin said in a televised national address.

Only essential workers will be "permitted to travel to work", he said, and citizens will be allowed out to exercise only within five kilometers (three miles) of their residence.

The government warned in a statement that "there will be a penalty" for violating the five-kilometer restriction.

Martin said schools and childcare facilities are to remain open "because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people's futures to be another victim of this disease."

A ban on visits between different households and indoor events will also be extended, although elite and professional level sports will be permitted to take place behind closed doors.

Ireland's latest restrictions, said the Prime Minister, were "probably Europe's strictest regime" but that "further action is now required".

"If we pull together over the next six weeks, we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way," he said.

There have been 1,852 deaths from the coronavirus in Ireland, according to the latest official figures.

In recent days, many countries in Europe have declared new emergency measures in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus, following record numbers of new cases of the virus.

Last Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the Netherlands will go into "partial lockdown" to curb one of Europe's biggest coronavirus surges.

The new restrictions include orders for all bars, cafes and restaurants to close. The sale of alcohol and cannabis will also be banned after 8:00 p.m. in a bid to reduce the social contacts that have led to the rise in COVID-19 cases, Rutte said of the steps.

A day later, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a nighttime curfew for Paris and eight other cities to contain the spread of COVID-19 after daily new infection rates reached alarming record levels.

On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a new series of measures to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases.

As part of the new restrictions, restaurants will have to display their maximum capacity, close at midnight at the latest and limit the number of people per table to six, while bars will have to close at 6:00 p.m. unless they can offer table service to seated customers.

Also on Sunday, the death toll across Europe from the new coronavirus topped 250,000 people.