Exiting Level 5: What will be allowed from December 1st?
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announces easing of Covid-19 restrictions leading up to Christmas
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced last Friday plans for the easing of nationwide Level 5 lockdown restrictions and the reopening of the country over a number of phases from tomorrow in the run-up to Christmas.
So what will that look like?
What happens in phase one?
The first phase of the gradual reopening will come into effect on Tuesday and will see all shops, including those deemed non-essential under Level 5 guidelines, hairdressers, and gyms allowed to reopen.
Gyms will not be allowed to put on exercise or dance classes and leisure centres and swimming pools may reopen for individual training only.
Cinemas, museums, galleries and libraries will reopen, and outdoor sports such as tennis and golf will be allowed to resume.
Non-contact training will also be allowed outdoors in pods of 15 people. No matches/events will be allowed to take place except professional and elite sports, approved inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and approved equestrian events, all behind closed doors.
Places of worship will reopen for services with restrictive measures while gatherings of 15 people may take place outdoors.
Hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs will be able to reopen open with services limited to residents only.
The Government has requested that people continue to work from home unless it is absolutely necessary that they attend in person, while public transport capacity will be limited to 50 per cent.
Weddings and funeral will continue to be permitted with up to 25 attendees.
The Government has also announced that from December 1st, face masks should be worn in busy or crowded streets and outdoor spaces, crowded workplaces or places of worship.
The Taoiseach advised that households should not mix with other households other than those within their social bubble until December 18th.
And phase two?
Restaurants and pubs “operating as restaurants with their own kitchen” will be allowed to reopen in this second phase on December 4th, including access for non-residents to restaurants in hotels. All meals must be prepared inside the premises, the Government said.
Nphet had recommended that there be one visitor a week for residents in nursing homes from the second week in December but this was not mentioned during last night’s announcement.
What about the ‘wet pubs’?
In short, no. While pubs that can operate as restaurants and “serve a substantial meal” have been given the green light to open, so-called “wet pubs” have not. The drink-only pubs will be restricted to takeaway service only.
The Government said that “additional seasonal support” through Covid-19 schemes would be made available to qualifying businesses that must remain closed over Christmas.
What about home visits?
Under the planned third phase of the reopening, restrictions on household visits and travel between counties are to be eased for a period of three weeks, to allow family and friends to celebrate Christmas together.
This phase will begin on December 18th, with households allowed to mix with up to two other households. People will be allowed to travel outside their county for three weeks until January 6th.
Nphet approved all this?
Well, not exactly. In a letter to Government last week, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended a more limited easing of restrictions.
It said the hospitality sector should remain limited to takeaway services for all of December and that a choice should be made between this and relaxing restrictions on household visits.
Government figures have stressed that it is the job of Nphet to advise, and for them to decide after considering the economic and societal impact of what has been proposed.
What happens on January 7th?
The Government has said the measures that were in place before December 18th, which includes open shops, hairdressers and restaurants, will apply subject to ongoing review and the trajectory of the virus.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly warned on Sunday that both Nphet and the Government were expecting the level of cases to rise from the second week in December, and that a rapid rise could lead to further measures being introduced in January.
Mr Donnelly said he did not expect to introduce restrictive measures before the end of December. Data released over the weekend suggests Ireland has outperformed much of the rest of Europe when managing the second wave of the virus.
“The truth is nobody knows precisely what might be required in January,” said the minister. “Is it possible additional measures will have to be brought in? If cases are in uncontrolled, rapid exponential growth in early January then obviously we would have to review the situation.”