Covid-19: Decision time on reopening plan as Varadkar questions cross-Border travel

Restaurants and pubs that serve food are likely to be allowed open in December

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last night introduced a new issue into the discussions when he raised the question of travel across the Border during the Christmas period. Photograph:  PA Photo

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last night introduced a new issue into the discussions when he raised the question of travel across the Border during the Christmas period. Photograph: PA Photo

 

Ministers and senior officials will finalise the plan to exit the lockdown and manage the pandemic over the Christmas period today in advance of a Cabinet meeting scheduled for tomorrow and announcements to the country afterwards.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last night introduced a new issue into the discussions when he raised the question of travel across the Border during the Christmas period.

Mr Varadkar told his parliamentary party that cross-border travel would have to be looked at by the Government given the high level of cases in the North. Mr Varadkar is understood to have requested data from the Department of Health on infection levels in the North.

A Government spokeswoman confirmed that the issue would be discussed by ministers today, though there is a strong view in Fianna Fáil that telling people not to cross the Border would be politically impossible.

A meeting of the Cabinet Covid sub-committee is scheduled for this evening, and is likely to be crucial in finalising the plan for reopening commercial and social life next week and managing the pandemic over the Christmas season.

With increasing signs that restaurants and pubs which serve food will be allowed to open later in December but that pubs which do not serve food will remain closed, both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings last night heard calls for the pubs which do not serve food to be allowed open too.

There has been fierce lobbying from the hospitality industry in recent days, but several senior sources across Government said last night that pubs which do not serve food are “very unlikely” to open.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met yesterday and is understood to have urged caution on the Government, citing the higher level of infections at present than when the first lockdown was lifted at the start of the summer.

One source said Nphet was pointing out that the country was starting from “a higher level” on this occasion, but it is understood that Nphet is not strongly opposing a lifting of the restrictions next week.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Varadkar said it is likely that people will be allowed to visit the homes of their friends and family over a two-week period next month.

Meanwhile Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that “gardaí won’t be calling to people’s homes” over the Christmas period and that it was expected people would be sensible.

He also said there was no reason to believe that the country would automatically go back into lockdown in January as long as numbers are kept low.

Six further deaths and 269 new Covid-19 cases were reported last night, an increase in daily case numbers since yesterday though the general trend remains downwards.

There have now been a total of 2,033 Covid-19 related deaths and a total of 71,187 confirmed coronavirus cases in the State.

The North’s Health Minister Robin Swann has warned of a crisis in the new year if there is a “festive free-for-all” ignoring restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus over the coming weeks.

As seven more deaths of people with Covid-19 were reported in the North, Mr Swann said new guidelines allowing people from three households to meet indoors for five days over Christmas did not mean it was “time to relax our guard”.

“Christmas is a time of hope and togetherness, but the greatest gift we can give our loved ones this year is to look after them,” he said.

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