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Government to consider international data and effect of visitor restrictions as it plots exit from Level 5

The Taoiseach has said that “no decisions have been made as yet” as to exactly what restrictions will follow Level 5.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 23rd 2020, 3:13 PM

THE LEVEL 5 exit plan will be decided and made public “either Thursday or Friday”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Speaking to reporters at Dublin Port today, he said coalition leaders are set to meet tonight, while a full Cabinet will be held tomorrow morning.

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

The Taoiseach said there will be meetings with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and Covid-19 subcommittee this week, with an announcement later this week.

“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.  

Ireland’s Level 5 restrictions are set to come to an end on Tuesday next week, 1 December, and the government is set to decide later this week what will be implemented to replace them.

Martin said Level 3 and Level 5 restrictions have worked, saying that the narrative stating otherwise recently is not helpful. The numbers have come “way down”, he said, adding that he wants them to drop further in the coming days.

The Taoiseach said that the government would have to “bear in mind” the effect that household visitor restrictions had on stemming the spread of the virus. 

“What has emerged is that the restriction of visitors to households, after we had introduced Level 3, seems to have had an impact. So we have to bear that in mind,” he said.  

Martin added the government will be looking at international evidence as well as the Irish experience about how best to plot a course forward. 

“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,” he said.  

The Taoiseach would not speculate on specific sectors and whether they might re-open, but sounded positive about exiting Level Five next week.

“I haven’t made any specific comment in relation to any specific sector or any specific area or sub sector so that will be a matter for government to consider,” he said.  

He added that he would not “go into specifics” about what and wouldn’t be open. 

“Suffice to say that the Irish people have made a lot of sacrifices. And this Level 5 has been difficult, and the restriction on households has been difficult for people. And we get that we understand that. But the good news is that what you were doing is working,” he said. 

Christmas

At today’s regular leaders’ meeting, the three-party leaders will be continuing discussions on what the country will look like over the Christmas period.

NPHET had previously indicated that it was targeting an average number of daily Covid-19 cases in and around 100 when the six-week lockdown ended but at present, the average is 360.

Martin has made it clear previously that the country will move back to Level 3 restrictions, with possibly some “modifications”, from 1 December, allowing non-essential retail to reopen in time for the Christmas trade. 

What those modifications are are yet to be decided but he has cast doubt on whether wet pubs would reopen.

His comments come after Minister of State Pippa Hackett said that people needed to “buckle down” for the next few weeks and warned that a Christmas “free-for-all” could lead to another lockdown in the new year. 

Hackett said it is difficult for the government to provide certainty for businesses, but that they did not want a situation where they could reopen before Christmas and be forced to close again.

She acknowledged that there is a “deep frustration” among publicans and restauranteurs about the ongoing restrictions but they still cannot open. 

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There have been increasing calls from Opposition parties, as well as businesses for clarity around what will happen in December.

In an open letter to the Taoiseach, nearly 500 businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector called on the government to give them an opportunity to reopen, or open to a greater extent next month. 

The industry signatories criticised the country’s response to Covid-19, which they say has hit parts of the economy like the hospitality and experience sector disproportionality and “without sufficient evidence” to back such moves.

The letter says that the ability to open in a sustained manner, with restrictions, from December will give them what could be a “final lifeline” for many in the sector.

The letter also claims the sector can play a crucial role in the economic recovery after the pandemic, but that “won’t be the case if many of these businesses are forced to permanently shut their doors”.

These businesses will work hard to ensure everyone is kept safe, operating to the strict guidelines set down by Government, whilst also importantly giving people the opportunity to connect with the people they love, in the place they love.

CEO of the Vintners Federation Padraig Cribben told Morning Ireland that the industry needs all pubs to be reopened for indoor, drinking, and dining, no distinction between the different types of pubs, and that the restrictions that would be in place would be based on the capacity to social distance.

“December is an important month for the trade. We do realise that December 2020 is going to be different from any other December but people are going to socialise,” he said.

“The real question that government has got to ask itself is, do they want to be in a controlled environment with social distancing with masks or do they want it to be in the domestic setting that we know has led to most of the spread of the virus that has been there in the last number of weeks and months.”

Cribben said that due to demand it would be safer for all pubs to reopen as it would mean fewer unregulated large gatherings. 

“The broader that demand is spread, the better it will be for allowing for less congregation for people.

“I think it’s actually in the public health interest to have as broad a range of outlets open as possible.”

With reporting by Christina Finn and Rónán Duffy

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Adam Daly

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