The Cabinet has decided that non-essential construction will stop at 6pm this Friday in order to help prevent the further spread of Covid-19.

Essential construction projects that will be exempt from this include health projects specific to Covid-19, housing adaptation grants, repairs critical to maintenance for rail and utility projects and roads.

Other exceptions from closure include social housing projects that are designated as essential sites by local authorities, as well as education facilities deemed as essential by the Department of Education.

Sole traders, such a plumbers, glazers and electricians, will be able to work on an emergency call-out basis to homes and businesses.

There will also be an exemption for certain large construction projects in the exporting and foreign direct investment sector, based on set criteria.

The Taoiseach has said that the restrictions in relation to construction will remain in place until at least 31 January.

Speaking at a Government Buildings press conference, Micheál Martin said that if a house is nearly complete, builders will be allowed to finish their work to render the house habitable. "A snag list is not an issue at all," he said.

Mr Martin said that the closure of construction was not a sectoral issue, but a societal response. 

"We realise how severe a measure this is on the construction sector," he said. 

"It is to relieve pressure on the hospitals and ICUs that motivates this decision." 

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The Minister for Housing has said that the move will have an impact on the Government's housing delivery targets for this year.

Darragh O'Brien said that the Government will do "whatever is necessary to make up as much ground as possible as restrictions ease and people get back to work".

He said that there are around 200,000 direct and indirect workers across the country in the construction sector, "and we are now asking the vast majority of them to stay at home".

Reacting to the news, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) said the impact of the current lockdown on the industry will takes months to calculate.

"The previous lockdown may have resulted in 5,000 fewer homes than expected in 2020," it said in a statement.

"In addition, we estimate somewhere around 10% output (circa €3bn) was lost due to the lockdown."

The industry body added that it is widely acknowledged at all levels of Government that the sector is operating safely and has had an excellent track record at keeping Covid-19 off sites and managing it when onsite. 

"This performance means the industry is best-placed to return to work safely on the 31st of January if the Government deems it safe to do so," it said.

"Companies that can still operate on essential construction will continue to adhere to the CIF’s world class standard operating procedure to ensure incidence on sites continues to be negligible."

The CIF said that in the coming weeks, construction companies will continue to refine their standard operating procedure, train staff where possible and main sites where required.

It also claimed that no other country, except for some US States and Italy in the initial wave, have shut down construction during lockdowns.  

"Most recently, the UK and Scotland have entered lockdown and left construction operational," it stated.

"The CIF will continue to work with the HSE, the HSA and the wider Government on monitoring the situation and will follow the advice as provided by these bodies."