By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland announced its first localised reimposition of some coronavirus restrictions on Friday as it sought to control outbreaks in three of the country's 26 counties, one of which borders the most populous, Dublin.
Restaurants, cafes and pubs in Kildare, Laois and Offaly can only serve food in outdoor areas to small groups for the next two weeks, with residents only allowed to leave their county in limited circumstances. The adjoining counties accounted for almost half of all cases in Ireland over the last two weeks.
"We all need to understand that this virus is still a deep and urgent threat, it is merciless and it is unrelenting. We have to be decisive. We can't afford to wait and see," Micheal Martin said in his first televised address as prime minister.
Ireland, which for several weeks had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, has seen a spike over the last week with the average infection rate more than doubling to around 50 cases per day.
The 92 cases reported on Friday was the highest since May 22, when the country was beginning to emerge from lockdown.
Health officials said on Thursday that while they had not seen a significant resurgence outside of identified clusters -- primarily in meat plants and accommodation for asylum seekers -- there was a significant risk of one developing.
The step backwards is a blow to one of the most cautious reopening plans in Europe. The government this week delayed the fourth and final stage of its exit plan for a second time that would have allowed nightclubs and all pubs to open.
The counties of Laois and Offaly are among the least populated in Ireland. Kildare is the fourth most populous with 80% of its commuters working in neighbouring Dublin, according to the county's chamber of commerce.
Many European countries have reimposed some restrictions or triggered local lockdowns to try to halt a resurgence of COVID-19 without having to return to the wider shutdown that closed swathes of their economies earlier this year.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)