Covid-19: Government set to reject advice and approve reopening of gastropubs and restaurants

Cabinet expected to approve easing of Covid curbs as Level 5 cost hits €1.5bn

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

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The Government is set to reject advice from the State’s public health experts and allow restaurants and gastropubs to reopen in December while also permitting household visits.

The Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee met for five hours on Thursday night and proposed that much of the hospitality sector should be allowed to reopen from December 7th onwards.

Senior sources said 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 unlikely that household visits will recommence next week, though rules on this will change from December 18th while travel restrictions would also be removed allowing people to leave their county.

In a letter to Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had advised that the hospitality sector should be allowed to offer take-away only services throughout December.

Nphet said a choice should be made between relaxing restrictions on households visits or allowing the hospitality sector to reopen.

A senior source said the Government would seek to “re-balance” this and allow much of the hospitality sector to reopen but with the trade off of permitting smaller groups to meet in people’s homes.

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.

Level 3

Sources said the Cabinet would meet on Friday and approve plans to move the country to a variation of Level 3 after six-weeks of the harshest Level 5 restrictions.

It is expected that shops, gyms and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen from next week onwards.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe yesterday confirmed that the introduction of Level 5 restrictions had cost the exchequer €1.5 billion in State supports and lost taxes.

Nphet has also recommended that there be one visitor a week for residents in nursing homes from the second week in December. It also warned about the prevalence of the disease in Northern Ireland, which followed Tánaiste Leo Varadkar saying there was no question of the Government banning travel across the border.

Daily cases of Covid-19 rose above 300 yesterday for the first time in four days, but the overall trend remains one of gradual decline in most parts. Nphet reported 335 new cases, including 119 in Dublin, where the decline in incidence of the disease has stalled over the past week.

However, the seven-day moving average, at 296 cases a day, slipped below 300 for the first time in the second wave of the pandemic. However, there is no prospect of meeting Nphet’s original target of 50-100 cases a day by the end of the month.

Religious ceremonies

The reproductive number, a measure of how much the virus is being transmitted, is currently estimated to be 0.7-0.9, Health Service Executive officials said.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said yesterday that a hoped-for decline in virus-related hospitalisations and ICU admissions had not yet materialised, and that these figures were “stuck”. However, the health service was going into the winter in a stronger position than last year, he added, with emergency department attendances down 15 per cent and trolley numbers 70 per cent lower.

Government sources also welcomed a recommendation from Nphet that places of worship be allowed to open during the two-week period between Christmas and the new year. There are serious doubts if permission for choirs and carol singing at religious ceremonies will be approved, given the connection between singing and potential spread of the coronavirus.

While not explicitly saying carol singing and choirs should be forbidden from being part of Christmas religious ceremonies, Nphet emphasised that particular attention would need to be paid to that aspect.

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