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Cabinet to meet this afternoon to finalise details of Covid-19 restrictions for Christmas

The Taoiseach says some of the decisions may not be palatable for some.

Pictured Dublin City Centre today.
Pictured Dublin City Centre today.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Nov 27th 2020, 12:10 PM

CABINET WILL MEET today to consider advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) about easing Level 5 restrictions ahead of Christmas.

NPHET convened on Wednesday and finalised its advice for Government which the sub-committee on Covid-19 considered last night.

The public health team recommended that pubs and restaurants should only be allowed serve takeaway throughout December.

However, the Cabinet sub-committee has given the green light for the reopening of restaurants next month.

Cabinet is meeting at 2pm this afternoon to finalise other details, before a nationwide announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin later, expected at around 6pm.

What we know

The Government has already indicated that a phased approach to easing restrictions and reopening society will be taken in the lead-up to Christmas. 

It is expected that Level 5 restrictions – which have been in place since 22 October – will be lifted on 1 December and that the country will enter Level 3, with some modifications, on Wednesday. 

It is understood there will be three phases to the lifting of restrictions. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has already indicated that retailers, gyms and hairdressers will be among those to reopen first. These will reopen from Tuesday, 1 December.

The main battleground between the public health team and government is hospitality.

dublin city 351 Source: Sam Boal

Doubt was cast over restaurants reopening yesterday following a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly from NPHET whose members raised serious concerns about the plan for the hospitality industry. 

Gastropubs are understood to be allowed to reopen with additional restrictions in place. Further discussion on this is expected to take place today at the full Cabinet meeting.

All dining is expected to take place in controlled indoor settings, beginning on a date between the 4-7 December, depending what ministers decide today.

Restaurant operators urged the government to provide clear and concise guidelines as they prepare to reopen their doors. Sallyanne Clarke, of the Michelin star L’Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin, said restaurateurs need to know what is happening as soon as possible. 

“We need to know pretty sharp when they’re going to allow us to open,” she said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. “A – to reschedule bookings and all the suppliers, they need two to three days notice and that does not include a Saturday and Sunday. And we need at least two days’ notice to turn things around in the kitchen and in the front of house.” 

Neil McDonnell from ISME told RTÉ’s News at One said that not having restaurants open at the same time as retailers would cause problems for some small businesses as restrooms wouldn’t be available in city and town centres.

He also said that lockdowns stifled an increase in Covid-19 cases, but also stifled businesses, jobs and people’s lives.

‘Not surprising’ that NPHET clashed with plans

NPHET’s advice clashed with the government’s plans to reopen restaurants and pubs that serve food to open before Christmas, but ultimately, other aspects had to be factored in.

The public health experts also raised concerns about religious services, recommending that they should only resume for two weeks of the month. However, it was decided last night that Mass and worship will return in December with strict rules around choir singing.

Those in government circles have said the push back from NPHET was always to be expected, and shouldn’t be overly surprising, with one saying that they are “always concerned about reopening”.

The Tánaiste had also said earlier this week that while his government ‘will of course listen to NPHET advice’, the Cabinet will make the final call on what reopens or remains closed.

Household visits

Varadkar said it was hoped that restrictions on household visits could be eased for up to two weeks to allow people visit their friends and family around Christmas time. 

Last night, the sub-committee on Covid-19 were discussing the possibility of advising that four households celebrating Christmas together. However, with the reopening of the hospitality sector, a curtailment of the numbers is likely, as NPHET advised that it should be one or the other. 

As of last night, the discussion is understood to have focused on three households, plus your own, with a max of six. However, it is believed Cabinet might opt for a max of ten.

It is believed that those in government are of the view that people are going to meet up for Christmas, no matter what NPHET or the government say, stating that it is better to be realistic about that prospect, and try and manage it, rather than trying to stop it. 

The date for easing those restrictions is expected to be in and around the 18 December, it is understood, with household gatherings not recommended before that date.

“It is the government’s objective to have family dinner on Christmas Day as normal as possible, but it’s too early to make that call yet,” Varadkar said earlier in the week.

“We want people to be able to meet their families and meet their friends over the Christmas period.”

The Taoiseach has also indicated that while there may be recommendations or advice around household numbers and visitors, it will largely be down to personal choice and responsibility.

Micheál Martin previously stated that it will not be the case that the gardaí will be knocking on peoples’ doors to check how many people are inside on Christmas Day.

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What else can we expect? 

It is expected that museums, galleries and cinemas will reopen under the Government’s early phase of reopening.

Inter-county travel will be restricted until later in December, but the 5km guidance will be lifted in the earlier phase. 

The Taoiseach said this week that the country is not yet in a position to return to normality or close to normality.

“Our approach will continue to be to go as far as possible, but no further,” he said.

Government sources have said very tough decisions have to be made today, with ministers having to sign off on some very difficult trade offs. 

The big challenge will then be the communication, with those in government circles stating that the key is keeping the message simple for people as we head into the Christmas period. 

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