Restaurants and gastropubs to reopen in December under Government plan
Cabinet sub-committee meets ahead of ‘polite showdown’ with public health experts
In a letter to the Government, the Nphet recommendedthat the hospitality sector should be allowed offer takeaway only services throughout December. Photograph: PA
The Government is due to agree to agree to allow restaurants and gastropubs reopen in December after a Cabinet sub-committee recommended the move on Thursday night.
The decision puts the Government at odds with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which called for a more cautious approach to reopening the hospitality sector before Christmas.
The Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee met for five hours late on Thursday where it was proposed that the hospitality sector would be allowed to reopen from December 7th onwards.
Senior sources said that there would be tighter rules including cutting the time allowed at a table and cutting the number of people allowed to sit together in restaurants.
It is now unlikely that household visits will recommence next week although this will change from December 18th while travel restrictions would also be removed at this stage allowing people to leave the county.
In a letter to the Government, the Nphet recommendedthat the hospitality sector should be allowed offer takeaway only services throughout December.
The Nphet said a choice should be made between relaxing restrictions on households visits or allowing the hospitality sector to reopen, sources said.
A senior source said the Government would seek to “re-balance” this by allowing hospitality to reopen while cutting the numbers allowed to visit households closer to Christmas time. It has not yet been decided how many people can visit each other at Christmas but it is likely to be less than six from three households.
The Cabinet will meet on Friday to approve plans to move the country to a variation of Level 3, sources say.
It is expected that shops, gyms and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen from next week onwards.
In the letter, the Nphet recommended that from next week onwards people would be allowed to have visits from one other household and that citizens would be allowed to travel within their own counties.
This would be relaxed between December 21st and January 3rd when people could travel outside their own counties and up to six people from three households could meet, according to those recommendations.
The Government, however, is expected to agree on Friday that hospitality can reopen from early December while household visiting restrictions would be relaxed from December 18th alongside a relaxation of travel restrictions.
The Nphet has also recommended that there be one visitor a week for residents in nursing homes from the second week in December.
After a lengthy meeting of the Nphet on Wednesday, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan briefed Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on its recommendations on Wednesday night. Mr Donnelly was in contact with senior Government figures on Thursday to discuss the advice in advance of the Cabinet sub-committee meeting.
While Nphet’s advice has yet to be published, The Irish Times understands that the position taken by the public health team is considerably tougher than the approach favoured by Government. It further presents the Government with a trade-off, making clear that any easing of measures in one area should lead to a tightening or maintaining of measures in another area.
The Cabinet sub-committee that met on Thursday comprises Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.
Nphet has already met with the special high-level advisory group, chaired by the State’s most senior civil servant, Martin Fraser. That group discusses the public health advice and then makes recommendations to the sub-committee, but based on wider criteria.
One Government source said that a “polite showdown” with Nphet was expected. “Its letter is more or less saying we should stay close to Level 5 right through Christmas,” said the person on condition of anonymity.
In addition to the health advice, the Government has received economic and sectoral advice as well as advice on the psychological impact, including likely behaviour in the event of restrictions being continued.
One source said if there was a new bout of restrictions in the New Year it would be for a shorter duration, of no more than three weeks. The source said there was a tacit acceptance that lockdown situations that continued for six weeks was too long.
Earlier, Government sources in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael played down comments by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael parliamentary party’s weekly meeting on Wednesday night in which he raised the issue of cross-Border travel.
Mr Varadkar raised concerns about the prevalence of Covid-19 in the North and said there was a question over travel across the Border which will have to be addressed.
Prior to his comments at the party meeting, Mr Varadkar had written to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly seeking information on Covid rates in the North and the possibility of cross-Border infections.
But senior sources in both Government parties were dismissive of Mr Varadkar’s intervention as a serious policy initiative. While the cross-Border question is likely to be discussed this evening at a meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on Covid, few expect either restrictions or even an appeal to people not to cross the Border.
“If he’s serious about this then he has an obligation to discuss it with us in advance,” said one Fianna Fail source.
A senior Fine Gael source was also sceptical of the prospect of any restrictions, and expressed puzzlement at the Tánaiste’s intervention.
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.
On Wednesday, 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.