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Cinemas, galleries and museums set to re-open next week, but Dáil told January restrictions may be needed

The Dáil is debating the next steps the government should take in moving out of Level 5 restrictions.

The Dáil is debating how the country should exit Level 5.
The Dáil is debating how the country should exit Level 5.

CINEMAS, GALLERIES AND museums are set to re-open in December as the country moves out of Level 5. 

The news comes as the Dáil debates the next steps the government should take in moving out of Level 5 restrictions.

The Taoiseach has already indicated that the aim after Level 5 is to reopen the economy under Level 3, with some modifications. Under Level 3, all museums, galleries and other cultural attractions remain closed under the government’s roadmap.

Officials have been engaging on the possibility of modifying the government’s Living with Covid-19 plan to allow for the safe reopening of arts and entertainment venues.

Arts and Culture Minister Catherine Martin said last week that she is aware from her engagement with cultural institutions and venues that there are concerns that some levels are too restrictive in terms of attendance numbers permitted, and the closure of some museums.

“There is ongoing engagement with my officials, officials from the Department of Health and the Taoiseach’s Department to see what can be done there,” she said. 

She said negotiations are ongoing at present to see can there be a “tweaking of levels”, so that the “individuality of each venue and cultural institution” can be assessed on its own merits in terms of opening up access.

It is understood that doors will reopen, with capacity restrictions in place.

While cultural events will re-open, there is bad news for sports, as sports events – such as the All-Ireland final – are due to remain behind closed doors.

The phased lifting of 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, but the final call on what restrictions will be in place next month will be signed off on at a second Cabinet meeting on Friday.

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 the details known on Friday.

Moving out of Level 5

Speaking in the Dail this evening, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he believes the country “should seek to ease restrictions next week but not so much that it requires it to return to Level 4 or 5 for a prolonged period in the New Year”.

“A short third period of enhanced restrictions may well be necessary in January or February but we should try to avoid it being a prolonged one,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, many see the debate about what to do in December as a conflict between protecting lives and protecting jobs, as if our society and our economy were in some kind of contest. 

“It is a false dichotomy and always has been. It’s as if the people who work in shops, or own a small business, don’t also worry about their own health, and that of their family and loved ones,” he said.

“As if the people who are most at risk from Covid don’t also yearn for the company of other people, or to be able to do some shopping, or to enjoy some Christmas cheer.

“In an ideal world we would be able to provide certainty to businesses and to consumers, and give plenty of advance notice, but we cannot. There are, unfortunately, too many moving parts, too many factors beyond our control, too many new things to take into account every day,” said Varadkar.

He said the virus behaves in unexpected ways, “so we have to plan for every eventuality, and make decisions based on changing evidence and new facts”. 

Frustration 

The Tánaiste said during the restrictions, many have become frustrated and downcast. 

He added:

As a Government we will do everything we can but this will not be a normal Christmas.  We will have to limit ourselves and our movements. We will have to be patient. We will have be tolerant of each other and understanding of lapses. All the time redoubling our efforts against Covid-19…
This year will be a Christmas like no other, but it can still be a good one, if we keep the faith.  

He said Level 3 was “probably more effective that we thought at the time”, while Level 5 “was not as effective as was modelled, but was needed to get the numbers down”. 

The Taoiseach told the Dáil tonight, “as we decide on the next steps I am determined that we have an open discussion about actions to date and what needs to be done in the months ahead”.

He said Ireland has the second lowest incidence of the virus in the European Union, with case numbers and deaths very substantially below the average.

‘Deaths are 90% below the level of the first wave’

“Deaths are 90% below the level of the first wave while at the same time many more critical public services have remained active, our schools have been open and economic activity, while still badly affected, has been higher.

“This didn’t happen by chance. It happened because the Irish people accepted the need to alter their behaviour and accepted key restrictions,” said Micheál Martin.

The Taoiseach added:

We are 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.

Speaking about travel, the Tánaiste said the European traffic light system which the government has adopted involves pre and post-travel testing. He said it does not eliminate the risk but does reduce it, he said.

“We need to embrace it and enforce it,” he said.

He said our public health authorities collect very good data on cases imported to Ireland due to international travel and even cases related to imported cases. 

Such data do not exist for cases linked to cross-border travel on the island, he said.

“This is a gap in our data which needs to be closed as it affects our ability to make evidenced-based decisions,” he said. 

Views of the Opposition

A number of TDs gave their views on what should happen next. 

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald called for “common sense” to guide Christmas travel and family meetings.

“There are people who haven’t seen a day’s work since March,” she said. 

She called for compassion to be shown to families at Christmas.

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Rise TD Paul Murphy said he feels trapped in a “doom loop”.

“It seems like the plan is to reopen restaurants and then inter-county travel – that is a recipe for seeding the virus across Dublin and then right across the country,” he said, stating that people want to do the right thing in combating the virus. 

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy reiterated a point he made last week, stating that lockdowns are longer necessary.

“This virus is not as lethal as it once was,” he said. The “hammer” of lockdown is still being used, he said, calling for a more nuanced approach.

Murphy said there is now an opportunity to make a few changes, and called for the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to join with the emergency coordination team that usually deals with natural disasters and emergencies the state faces.

Murphy called on the government to move away from case numbers as a metric for major policy decisions.

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said Murphy’s comments are “irresponsible”, while his colleague Mick Barry called for mass testing here in Ireland as was rolled out in Liverpool.

Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe called for the mixed messaging around travel to end, stating that stating that non-essential travel should not take place is not the correct message.

He said the message should be that travel is okay, as long as passengers have a PCR test upon departure and arrival. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane criticised the government for “making a decision” on reopening for December before getting advice from NPHET.

He said NPHET has been correct in the previous advice given, however, other TDs such as Independent Wexford TD Verona Murphy said other health experts who disagree with NPHET’s approach should also be listened to. 

She raised concerns about mixed cancer diagnoses, and the other impacts the restrictions are having on peoples’ mental health. Aóntú’s Peadar Toíbín said the restrictions are having a “negative impact on peoples’ lives”. 

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