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Lockdown lifting announcement due on Friday, but won't clash with the Late Late Toy Show

Cabinet will meet today to discuss the government’s exit plan.

Pubs and restaurants say they want to reopen their doors in December.
Pubs and restaurants say they want to reopen their doors in December.
Image: Sam Boal

CABINET WILL MEET today to discuss the Level 5 exit plan as all indications are the country will be moving back to Level 3 restrictions, with some modifications, come next Tuesday.

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, it is understood that the government is planning to make details known on Friday with the Taoiseach giving a national address.

Yesterday, Micheál Martin said that “no decisions have been made as yet” as to exactly what restrictions will follow Level 5.

He said there will be meetings with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and Covid-19 subcommittee this week, with the Cabinet meeting for a second time later in the week to discuss the most up to date data before an announcement is made.

“We will engage with NPHET and I’ve been in touch with the Chief Medical Officer.  NPHET obviously will give its advice but government will decide how we exit Level 5 and that will be a decision of government that will be taken this week, either towards Thursday or Friday,” he said.  

However, he added that the government, not NPHET, would be making the final call. 

Government sources state that today’s Cabinet meeting will be important, and while ministers and the Taoiseach won’t make a “definite call” on the level of restrictions, it will give a good indication as to the direction the country is headed for Christmas.

When asked about the timing of the announcement to the public, a government source said “we are all aware of the Toy Show issue”, indicating that if the Taoiseach is to give an address, it would not clash with the programme, set to air at 9.35pm, and would take place earlier in the day. 

What can be expected? 

The Taoiseach said yesterday that Level 3 and Level 5 restrictions have worked in terms of bringing down the case numbers. He appeared positive about moving away from Level 5 restrictions. 

There will be good news for retailers as all non-essential shops are set to reopen. 

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. 

This is to mitigate crowds of shoppers descending on retailers in the weeks up to Christmas.

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

Under the current draft plan, it is understood that the aim is to keep restaurants open permanently once the lockdown ends next week.

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

No final decisions have been made yet. However, 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. 

Drink-only pubs and pubs that serve food may also have to have earlier closing times.

“We have looked at a lot of research on this, we’ve looked at what happened from August, September, October, we looked at international data. There are super spreader events, gatherings and congregation facilitate the spread of the virus. Gatherings and congregation with events with alcohol facilitate the spread of the virus. Ultimately, vigilance is key, human behaviour is key,” the Taoiseach said yesterday.

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

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

Inter-county travel will also be allowed so people can go home to see their friends and family. Mass and religious worship is also set to reopen.

“This Level 5 has been difficult, and the restrictions on households has been difficult on people. That has been very hard for people. We get that, we understand that.

“The good news is that what you are doing is working. We’re managing our hospitals in terms of ICU numbers and in terms of hospitalisation. We’ve kept our schools open. We’ve kept our schools open thanks to all involved,” said Martin yesterday.

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