Nphet advises restaurants be limited to takeaway and deliveries only after Christmas

Government ‘minded’ to go with ‘significant restrictions’ on hospitality sector - Taoiseach

The Government may decide to keep open the possibility of permitting outdoor dining for restaurants and gastropubs that can accommodate diners in heated outdoor areas. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

The Government may decide to keep open the possibility of permitting outdoor dining for restaurants and gastropubs that can accommodate diners in heated outdoor areas. File photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The National Public Health Emergency Team has advised the Government to close restaurants and gastropubs to takeaway and deliveries only after Christmas to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The team has recommended additional restrictions for the hospitality sector and reducing household visits from two to one other household from December 28th to reduce new infections.

The recommended restrictions would put the country back on enhanced Level 3 restrictions with a ban on inter-county travel again being introduced to reduce the movement of people.

Nphet advises that non-essential retail can remain open after Christmas.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Friday that the Government was “very minded” to accept the advice of Nphet, set out in a letter received on Thursday, and to proceed with “significant restrictions” on the hospitality sector before New Year’s Eve.

Mr Martin stopped short of disclosed the date when the new restrictions might be introduced after Christmas ahead of the Government meeting next Tuesday to consider Nphet’s advice.

Following a virtual meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, the Taoiseach said that Nphet was “proposing significant restrictions on hospitality before New Year’s Eve.”

“Government is minded to go with that recommendation, but Government has to discuss this and we’ll ultimately decide on Tuesday,” he said.

“But certainly given the rising numbers over the last week - and they will increase again today - we are very minded to accept the advice that Nphet has given us in terms of bringing forward that date before New Year’s Eve, which will involve additional restrictions on hospitality.”

Mr Martin acknowledged that this was “very serious” for the hospitality sector and the Government “stands ready to support the hospitality sector during this very, very difficult period.”

“We are much disposed to moving in accordance with the advice that we are receiving from Nphet,” he said.

The Government may decide to delay restrictions to December 30th depending on the number of new cases between now and next week’s Cabinet meeting, but the expectation is restrictions will be introduced before New Year’s Eve due to concerns about social mixing that night.

It may decide to keep open the possibility of permitting outdoor dining for restaurants and gastropubs that can accommodate diners in heated outdoor areas, recognising the impact that the lockdowns and business closures have had on the sector over the course of the pandemic.

It is understood the Nphet letter expressed concern about the five-, seven- and 14-day incidence rates of the virus and the increased reproduction number of between 1.1 and 1.3, meaning that the virus is spreading with between 11 and 13 new infections for every 10 cases.

Nphet raised concerns in the letter that infections are increasing across all age cohorts, in contrast to the second wave where new cases were mostly among younger people initially, and pointed to the risks of further spreading of the virus with family get-togethers over Christmas.

The public health team expressed worry about the situation with the high level of Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland as an example of how coronavirus infections can rise quickly.

Details of the Nphet’s recommendations emerged on the eve of a further relaxation of restrictions since the lifting of the six-week Level 5 restrictions at the start of December.

Under the latest relaxation phase on restrictions, from Friday, inter-county travel is permitted over Christmas until January 6th and people are allowed to have visitors to their home from two other households to allow for families and friends to mix over the festive period.