Coronavirus: Government under pressure over reopening plan

Difficulty of charting a route out of Level 5 clear as business lobby criticises Nphet

Danny McCoy of Ibec: accused Nphet of ‘limiting the choice for Government’ by making regular interventions in the media. Photograph: Eric Luke

Danny McCoy of Ibec: accused Nphet of ‘limiting the choice for Government’ by making regular interventions in the media. Photograph: Eric Luke

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The Government is facing pressure from all sides as it seeks to chart a route out of lockdown and a Christmas reopening for businesses amid concern that Covid-19 case numbers are starting to rise again.

Employers’ lobby Ibec has asked Taoiseach Micheál Martin for a gradual easing of restrictions on businesses from next week, leading to a return to Level 2 by the middle of December.

It urged him to prioritise hospitality, retail and travel in plans for reopening economic and social life, which are currently being considered by Government.

However, chief medical officer Tony Holohan yesterday said he was “increasingly concerned” at recent trends regarding Covid-19, and Government sources say the National Public Health Emergency Team is pushing for a slower reopening and severe restrictions on travel into Ireland.

In a letter to Mr Martin, Ibec chief Danny McCoy accused Nphet of “limiting the choice for Government” by making regular interventions in the media and that “we understood you and colleagues were going to address” the practice.

The group also said it was “intolerable” that no plan for the easing of the restrictions had yet been published. It sought a meeting with the Taoiseach “as a matter of urgency” because confidence in the management of the pandemic was “diminishing within the business community”.

Moving average

Nphet reported a further 366 cases last night and a further 11 deaths. The five-day moving average of daily cases has increased from 350 cases on November 11th to 424 yesterday, Dr Holohan noted.

The chief medical officer’s warnings came after the Government made a U-turn, abandoning proposals flagged only the previous day to ban pubs selling takeaway drinks in an effort to stop people drinking together outdoors.

Following resistance from the Greens and Fine Gael Ministers, and from some Fianna Fáil TDs prior to the Cabinet meeting, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly withdrew a memo that proposed to make it an offence for people to gather for outdoor drinking. It is understood the memo was drawn up at the instigation of the Department of the Taoiseach.

The Irish Times understands the Government did not consult with Garda Headquarters before drawing up the plans. Senior Garda sources said additional powers were not required and that “hot spot” locations where people have gathered from time to time to drink during the lockdown would be more closely monitored from this weekend.