Coronavirus: 335 new cases and three further deaths

Decision on inter-county travel will come closer to Christmas , says Tánaiste

Leo Varadkar: decision on inter-county travel – including to Northern Ireland – will not be made until closer to Christmas. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Leo Varadkar: decision on inter-county travel – including to Northern Ireland – will not be made until closer to Christmas. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The deaths of a further three people with Covid-19 have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

This brings to 2,036 the total number of deaths in the State as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nphet also reported an additional 335 confirmed cases of the disease in an update on Thursday evening, bringing the total number of confirmed cases here to 71,494.

Of the new cases, 119 were in Co Dublin, 29 were in Co Kilkenny, 23 in Co Limerick, 20 in Co Donegal, 19 in Co Tipperary, and 19 in Co Cork, with the remainder spread across 19 other counties.

The median age of the new cases is 35 years, and 64 per cent of them are aged under 45.

The 14-day incidence of the disease here now stands at 103.9 cases per 100,000 people. Donegal has the highest such incidence at 218, followed by Louth at 201.7. Wexford has the lowest incidence at 36.7.

The latest figures come as the public health team advised the Government that either rules on households visits can be relaxed over the festive season or the hospitality sector could start to reopen, but both should not take place at once.

The advice comes ahead of the ending of the current period of Level 5 coronavirus restrictions next week, and amid questions over the exact nature of the restrictions that will be in place for the Christmas period.

Inter-county travel

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had said a decision on inter-county travel for Christmas – including to Northern Ireland – will not be made until closer to the period.

He confirmed in the Dáil there “certainly will not be a ban on cross-Border travel”, but he said a move to Level 3 would not permit inter-county travel of a non-essential nature.

Mr Varadkar said a decision on inter-county travel would not be decided by the Cabinet on Friday.

He pointed out that under Level 5 and Level 3 inter-county travel, including cross-Border travel for shopping or for visiting friends and relatives, will not be allowed.

He said: “We hope to be in a position to advise people that they can travel between counties, including Northern Ireland, to visit friends and relatives closer to Christmas, but [that] will depend on the epidemiological data then.”

The Tánaiste added that “at the moment the rates of Covid are much higher [in the North] than they are here, but in two weeks’ time that might look very different because restrictions are being reimposed there.”

Mr Varadkar had previously told his parliamentary party that the issue of 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.

Pub setting

Mr Varadkar also questioned the logic that the availability of alcohol in a “controlled” pub setting would reduce the risk of infection and discourage house parties that would otherwise be held.

“Just because people can gather in a pub doesn’t mean that an equal number of home gatherings won’t happen,” he said.

He was speaking in advance of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 meeting to decide on what happens at the end of the six weeks of Level 5 restrictions.

Independent TD Michael Lowry had said that one way or another alcohol would be consumed over Christmas and responsible publicans would make sure the rules were followed.

“I would say that publicans have generations of experience and are trustworthy,” the Tipperary TD added. He said they knew how to deal with the public and would police their customers and do things the way they should be done.

But the Tánaiste said that “it’s very possible that people having spent a few hours or a night in a pub will then retire to somebody’s house and have a party there.

“So I don’t think that this idea that if you open pubs there will be fewer house parties is necessarily true. You might actually end up with the same number or even more and therefore increase risk.”

He insisted that he was sympathetic to the view that the pub is a controlled environment.

He also said no decisions had yet been made about what will happen with restaurants, pubs or hotels in December. But he said: “Whatever happens we’ll make sure that financial supports like the employment wage subsidy scheme and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme remain in place for businesses that can’t open.”