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Phased lifting of Level 5: Inter-county travel could open up a few days before Christmas

Shops, gyms, and hairdressers are due to open up next week.

Travel between counties will be a permitted to allow families to visit one another this Christmas.
Travel between counties will be a permitted to allow families to visit one another this Christmas.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

Updated Nov 24th 2020, 5:33 PM

A PHASED LIFTING of the Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions during December is expected to be announced this week. 

There was a brief discussion of the planned lifting at today’s Cabinet meeting. The country will be moving back to Level 3 restrictions, with some modifications, come next Wednesday.

While there had been speculation that the public announcement might be made on Thursday, so as not to clash with the Late Late Toy Show, the working plan as of now is the government is planning to make details known on Friday.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet tomorrow, with government waiting to see the final data before making a final call on the level of restrictions over the Christmas period. 

The current restrictions are due to last until a minute after midnight on 2 December, with the first phase of reopening seeing non-essential retail due to open on that date, along with hairdressers, barbers and gyms. 

It is understood that retailers will also be given the green light to extend opening hours.

While such a move usually requires planning permission, it is believed local authorities have been doing a lot of work with businesses to facilitate the longer opening hours.

Under the first phase of reopening, sports such as tennis and golf will also restart next week.

Travel

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

The advised ban on household visits advice may not be lifted next week, but will likely remain in place until later in December.

In terms of restrictions on household visits, it is believed they could be lifted for Christmas week, with the focus more on personal choice and responsibility, rather than rigid recommendations on numbers at gatherings.

The public will be asked to limit mingling to perhaps one main gathering during the Christmas period.

The main battleground for the government is whether pubs and restaurants will reopen for December.  

There is doubt in government circles that wet pubs will be given the green light to open their doors.

While no final decisions have been made yet, it is understood that in order to allow restaurants and pubs that serve food to open, one option under consideration is delaying their reopening by one week from 1 December. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said all sectors will be given advance warning ahead of reopening. He said the government has been using data analytics, in conjunction with NPHET, to make its decisions.

“Data will inform next steps,” said Martin, adding: “It is not guesswork.”

Some of the measures due to be announced “will be palatable, some of it will not”, he said. The Taoiseach said Ireland is the second best in Europe in terms of keeping the virus down. “Will someone acknowledge that?” he asked.

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Martin said there will be risks as we move into the Christmas period, but “it is how we mitigate those risks” that matters.

Loss in revenue of up to €270 million

Hotels and guesthouses across the country are facing a loss in revenue of up to €270 million over the Christmas period due to government restrictions, the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) has said.

Commenting on the fact that people may not be allowed to travel outside their county for much of December, Tim Fenn, chief executive of the IHF, said that this will have a devastating impact on hotels throughout the country, severely limiting their ability to trade.

“It is clear that December and Christmas will be very different this year. But the government must take a more balanced approach to allowing people travel outside their county to visit family.

“Hotels can be an important part of the solution in facilitating this by providing very safe, highly-controlled, spacious environments for people stay independent of the home setting. We have a proven safety record and urge the Government to recognise the role we can play in ensuring a safer Christmas.”

Fenn added that the next few weeks of trading will be “absolutely vital to hotels in terms of sustaining them during the first few months of next year, when business levels will be dramatically lower”.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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