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'January lockdown' not ruled out but non-essential retail outlets will not cIose

The phased reopening of the country ahead of Christmas was announced last night.

If a circuit breaker is needed the government want to do it in January.
If a circuit breaker is needed the government want to do it in January.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE TAOISEACH HAS said the government will not be afraid to act to bring in restrictions in January if Covid-19 numbers rise exponentially. 

Micheál Martin yesterday evening announced the phased reopening of the country ahead of Christmas, which will allow for restaurants, gastropubs, gyms and hairdressers to open, and household visits to take place. 

However, a warning was also issued by the Taoiseach that if numbers rise, restrictions could be back on the cards in early 2021. 

Government sources believe there is a “high chance” a short circuit breaker of two weeks might be needed in January, with the view that such a move would be better than four weeks of restrictions in February or March. 

However, such restrictions are likely to only impact the hospitality sector, with non-essential retail set to remain open.

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings last night, the Taoiseach said that when he announced Level 5 restrictions he flagged that the country could face future restrictions again in January if the virus levels rose again through Christmas.

He said Covid-19 spreads through human contact, so how people act is key.

Martin said there are limits to how the government can attempt to control people’s behaviour over prolonged periods.

The Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan’s letter to government this week warns of how Ireland could find itself in a “precarious” position and the virus could turn “quickly”.

In response to being asked about those concerns, the Taoiseach said: 

“Overall NPHET recommended that we move to Level 3 and obviously were concerned about hospitality, to be fair. These are judgement calls all along the way. There is also the need to balance the economic, social and mental well-being as well.

“Of course we have to monitor where the virus takes us after this. Some of this is in our hands in terms of how we behave.

“We will not be slow to act again. If anything we have learned that by moving earlier than most European countries we are in a much better place,” he said.

If restrictions are rolled out again in Ireland in January, they may not resemble what came before, said the Taoiseach.

Government sources have stated that even if a circuit breaker is needed, non-essential retail will not close again.

The Taoiseach indicated that emerging data shows little risk in shop settings.

“We will look at this again in January. We will learn from research and data. You could be looking at a different type of restrictions if we had to move into more restrictions.  Just as in Level 5 we had a different set of restrictions than we had in phase one of lockdown in the spring. Construction stayed open, schools stayed open. This is an evolving journey.

“We want this to be sustainable. We will review this on 6 January in terms of new measures that we might have to take or indeed some of these reopenings could be sustainable, some of these sectors might not have to close again. If you take non-essential retail, we will watch that very carefully because there is more data coming in all the time,” said the Taoiseach.

Although not named as such by government, some people have been critical of this so-called ‘seesaw’ approach that has been signposted as Ireland’s path through the pandemic.

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Some doctors and academics have campaigned, since the start of the pandemic, for a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy in Ireland, entailing an even harsher and more prolonged lockdown at first to crush the curve of the virus entirely, backed up by aggressive public health measures, including enhanced tracking and tracing, to keep down community transmission.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett previously stated that a Christmas “free-for-all” could lead to another lockdown in the new year. 

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