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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Naoise Culhane
# covid19
'Stay away from crowded shops, streets and buses': Caution urged as retailers open back up for Christmas shopping
The government has asked customers to “play their part” as we head into the busiest shopping season of the year.

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING STARTS in earnest today as retailers open their doors back up to customers after six weeks of closure due to Covid-19 restrictions.

As part of the government’s plan to move the country out of Level 5 restrictions all retail can reopen as well as hairdressers, gyms, cinemas, museums and libraries. From Friday, restaurants and gastro-pubs can also reopen to serve customers indoors. 

Public health officials have asked people to acknowledge their own personal responsibility in keeping transmission levels low and to stay away from crowded streets, shops and public transport.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said transmission levels are “very different” than the low levels when Ireland exited its first lockdown.

“There are going to be opportunities or circumstances where there is more in the way of crowding, more interaction with people and so on,” he said.

But one is not compelled to get on a crowded bus, or walk down a crowded street or go into a crowded shop. It’s really important that people begin to recognise these things and begin to take actions themselves.

He said the retail environment has for the most part shown significant commitment to implementing public health measures. These settings were not closed down in Level 5 because they contributed significantly to the spread of infection, he said, but more to drive down the total volume of socialisation in society.

Dr Holohan said it is now up up to each individual to take on board the basic public health advice and “recognise circumstances that constitute danger of transmission”.

“Stay away from a crowded shop, stay away from a crowded street, stay out of a crowded bus.”

Liz Canavan, assistant general secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, also asked customers to “play their part”.

She advised people to support their local retailers and remember they can still shop online and collect their goods or have them delivered.

“If you do go out shopping, wrap up warm in case you have to queue. Try to shop at off-peak times and remember to keep a two-metre distance from other shoppers.

“You must wear your mask in store for your safety and for that of other shoppers and staff. Try to keep your shopping time to a minimum and remember to use the hand sanitiser on entering and leaving the shop.”

Extended opening hours

With large numbers of people expected at stores across the country today, some retailers have extended their opening hours to better spread customer numbers across the day.

Penneys will re-open its 36 stores, with those located in city centres and major shopping centres to trade until 10pm on weekdays and stores on main streets in towns and in town shopping centres to trade until 9pm.

This morning Penneys stores in Dundrum Town Centre and Blanchardstown Centre will be open from 7am and will trade right through to closing time at 10pm tomorrow.

The retailer has said it will have extensive safety measures in place including strict social distancing protocols, limits on the number of customers allowed in store and hand sanitiser stations on entry. 

Naoise Culhane Naoise Culhane

Retail Ireland said the next few weeks will be “make or break” for many retailers.

“Every day matters. It’s crucial that customers support those businesses that have been badly hit by Covid restrictions,” Retail Ireland director Arnold Dillon said.

“Public safety is the absolute priority. Retailers have gone to enormous lengths to protect staff and customers.”

Public transport

Under Level 3, public transport can move from 25% to 50% capacity. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has said with the resumption of retail, some hospitality and other activities, and given the fact that schools are still in term, it anticipates demand will increase this week.

It has asked people to only use public transport for necessary journeys and to avoid peak-time travel.

“If particular pressure points emerge in the coming days, NTA and the transport operators will seek to respond, and address them at local level if there is scope to do so.

We would ask people to avoid travelling at times of the day when a lot of school children and essential workers are using public transport, and only to use public transport for essential purposes.

The NTA also asked people to bear in mind there may be an increase in private cars on the roads which could cause delays to services. The authority advised intending passengers to allow more time for their journey and asked them to remain respectful towards transport workers.

Last week, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) Dermot O’Leary said additional retail patronage cannot be allowed to “cause an overload of buses and trains, potentially leading to confrontation between commuters and/or frontline transport staff or create Covid-19 hotpots on public transport”.

He said the network can, at short notice and with governemnt support, produce a one-off bus and train timetable which would facilitate a longer shopping spread. O’Leary said transport staff are ready and willing to assist towards alleviating “the expected tsunami of people” that will venture out to shop and socialise ahead of Christmas.

Disappointment for hoteliers and publicans 

While last week’s announcement of a move into Level 3 was a welcome reprieve for many businesses, some in the hospitality sector are still suffering.

From today hotels can re-open to guests for social stays and from Friday their restaurants can open up to customers who are not guests. However no inter-county travel is allowed until 18 December. 

Last week Tim Fenn, Chief Executive of the Irish Hotels Federation said the decision to delay travel between counties was “short-sighted”. 

He said the sector “remains effectively in extended lockdown” as a result.

“There is little difference between the level three announced and level five in terms of how hotels operate. Hotels could have played an important role in facilitating a safer reopening by providing very safe, highly controlled, spacious environments for people stay independent of their family home setting.

We should be viewed as an important part of the infrastructure in enabling a safer Christmas. While we welcome the easing of restriction on indoor dining, it is deeply disappointing that the government has chosen to compress family visits to such a short window at either side of Christmas.

“This will inevitably concentrate the number of gatherings in people’s homes over a short period, which poses additional avoidable risks.”

Publicans are also unhappy with the tighter restrictions on their businesses in this version of Level 3. Only pubs that serve food prepared on their own premises can re-open from Friday, meaning bars that adapted their business model and linked up with external food businesses to serve meals can not re-open before Christmas.

And so-called ‘wet pubs’ will not be able to re-open their doors for the festive season.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) described the decision to keep pubs closed while allowing food premises to reopen as “a stunning act of government hypocrisy”. 

“There is scant logic in permitting one type of venue open and not the other,” VFI said.

The government decision to spilt the trade in two will cause huge distress to publicans and their staff who have already borne the heaviest burden since first closing back in March. Over 22,000 people will now continue on the PUP [Pandemic Unemployment Payment] over Christmas and have no prospect of returning to work in the New Year.

The federation has said there is widespread belief among publicans that wet pubs may not reopen until a vaccine achieves herd immunity.

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