Q&A: What restrictions are going to be lifted next week?

Staggered reopening planned as country emerges from Level 5

 Grafton Street before Level 5 restrictions were imposed. Photograph: Stephen Collins

Grafton Street before Level 5 restrictions were imposed. Photograph: Stephen Collins

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On Friday, the Government will sign off on a plan to ease the nationwide Level 5 lockdown restrictions and reopen the country in a number of phases in the run-up to Christmas. So what can we expect to reopen, and more importantly, when?

Retail opening up

From early next week you will be able to browse non-essential shops, get that increasingly unruly head of hair cut, book into a hotel, exercise in a gym, and see a film in the cinema.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the gradual reopening will come into effect on December 1st or 2nd. The regulations underpinning the six-week lockdown formally expire at midnight on Tuesday, December 1st.

Under the first phase of reopening, the Government has prioritised the resumption of activities and services where the risk of infection, and likely spread of Covid-19, is believed to be low.

All non-essential retail outlets will be permitted to reopen, allowing people who have not spent lockdown filling virtual shopping baskets online to begin their Christmas shopping.

Cinemas, museums and galleries are expected to reopen, along with hairdressers, barbers, hotels and gyms. Churches and other places of worship will be allowed to resume religious services, with a likely limit of 50 people in attendance. Outdoor sports such as tennis and golf may also be allowed to resume.

What about restaurants and pubs?

It is likely restaurants and pubs that serve food will reopen in a second phase, potentially a week later from Monday, December 7th, although that date has not been confirmed.

The hospitality sector has strongly lobbied to be allowed to resume trading for the traditionally busy Christmas period. Industry groups representing pubs and restaurants have pushed for indoor dining to be permitted given the weather at this time of year.

For restaurants and pubs serving food that do open there will likely be stricter social-distancing controls required. The definition of “pubs that serve food” will also likely be tightened, to clamp down on pubs opening while only serving very limited food options, such as cheese toasties grilled at the bar.

While it is anticipated indoor dining will be allowed for restaurants and pubs serving food, so-called “wet pubs” that do not serve food will still be shuttered and restricted to takeaway service only.

Given the higher risk of infection associated with people congregating in settings where alcohol is served, it is increasingly unlikely drink-only pubs will be allowed to reopen this year.

Can I visit my family and friends?

Under a planned third phase of the staggered reopening, restrictions on household visits and travel between counties are to be eased for a period of about two weeks close to Christmas, to allow family and friends celebrate the holiday together.

In Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, up to three households will be allowed to meet during a five-day Christmas period. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the Government hopes to introduce a similar measure to allow household visits “for something closer to two weeks” in the Republic.

If coronavirus case numbers shoot up during December, given people will be congregating and socialising, limits on household visits and non-essential travel between counties will be reimposed in early January.

When will we know all this for certain?

Cabinet is due to meet at 1pm on Friday to discuss and sign off on the reopening plan, with full details to be announced at a press conference after that meeting.

While previous major Covid-19 announcements have often come late in the day following lengthy Cabinet meetings, that is unlikely to be the case this time. Politicians are well aware that the hugely popular Late Late Toy Show airs on RTÉ One at 9.35pm on Friday, so any press conference announcing details of the reopening will have to be done and dusted before that.