Covid-19: Museums, cinemas set to reopen next week as Varadkar warns of New Year restrictions

All-Ireland football and hurling finals to be held behind closed doors under Government plan

Museums, galleries, cinemas and non-essential retail are set to reopen from next week onwards, under plans being considered on exiting the Level 5 lockdown. Photograph: iStock

Museums, galleries, cinemas and non-essential retail are set to reopen from next week onwards, under plans being considered on exiting the Level 5 lockdown. Photograph: iStock

 

Museums, galleries, cinemas and non-essential retail are set to reopen from next week onwards, under plans being considered on exiting the Level 5 lockdown, Cabinet sources have confirmed. There is no agreed path forward for gigs, sources said.

Hairdressers and gyms may be allowed to reopen and religious services could return from next week under plan, though restaurants may have to wait until later in December.

The All-Ireland football and hurling finals are due to take place next month and it is understood that these will be held behind closed doors.

Government officials said the details of a plan to provide for a staggered exit from the strict restrictions from next Tuesday onwards are still being worked on.

The current expectation is that the State will move to Level 3 “with modifications”, one said. Curbs on travel between counties would be lifted later in the month to allow travel for Christmas, though an exact date has not yet been set.

The Cabinet met on Tuesday morning for an initial discussion on the reopening plan and Ministers are expected to push for the greatest relaxation of restrictions possible.

Cabinet sources across Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens say Ministers will push for the reopening of shops, restaurants and churches from next week onwards.

In the Dáil Tánaiste Leo Varadkar signalled that a third wave of restrictions may be necessary in the New Year after the Christmas holiday period.

Mr Varadkar did not call it a lockdown but said “a short third period of enhanced restrictions may well be necessary in January or February but we should try to avoid it being a prolonged one.”

During a debate on the Covid-19 in advance of the Government’s decision on the situation after the Level 5 lockdown, Mr Varadkar said “I believe we should ease restrictions next week but not so much that requires us to return to Level 4 or Level 5 for a prolonged period in the New Year”.

Opening the debate Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “we are not yet in a position to return to normality or close to normality.

“Our approach will continue to be to go as far as possible, but no further.”

Indicating that all sectors will not re-open the Taoiseach said “the reality is that for some activities the guidance will be that there is too much risk - and for all activities there are core guidelines and restrictions on how we act which we must respect”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the 14-day rate of infection had gone from 310 per 100,000 four weeks ago to 109 on Tuesday. “That’s the biggest decline anywhere in Europe.” But he said the reproduction rate of the infection had gone from 0.6 to 0.8.

Minimise contacts

The leaders of the three parties met on Monday night and agreed that the country is on track to move out of Level 5 restrictions. However, sources said no final decisions were made on how this would happen.

The Government is eager to avoid another wave of Covid-19 cases and having to introduce further measures in January.

With this aim in mind, it is likely to retain some restrictions that minimise the number of contacts a person has, alongside plans to reduce the number of gatherings with alcohol. This is expected to mean the reopening of restaurants and pubs is delayed beyond December 1st.

However, there has been intensive lobbying from all sectors, the scale of which has been described as “off the charts” by political sources, and there is a strong reluctance from the restaurant industry to delay reopening.

A number of Cabinet sources said they would push for the resumption of indoor dining in restaurants from next Tuesday, while one Minister said they would argue that pubs have had “a really tough year” and should be part of the considerations.

Despite this, there is a growing sense amongst Ministers that pubs not serving food will not reopen this year.

One Government source said “every contact counts” as they mull options with the largely competing aims of reopening the economy to the greatest extent possible and dampeninga resurgence of the disease.

Officials are understood to be examining the impact the Thanksgiving holiday has on Covid-19 case numbers in the US and Canada.

The Government will make a decision on either Thursday or Friday on how to exit the six-week lockdown after hearing advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team9 (Nphet).

Vaccine strategy

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, Prof Brian MacCraith, has told the Taoiseach that the hopes to have a strategy on distributing vaccines ready by December 11th.

The first meeting of the taskforce on Monday heard that business, supply chain and project management experts have been engaged to help develop arrangements for sourcing and distributing any vaccine that is approved within the EU.

The deaths of six more people with Covid-19 was reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday evening. This brings to 2,028 the total number of virus deaths in the pandemic. This brings to 2,028 the total number of virus deaths in the pandemic. Nphet also reported a further 226 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing the total number of cases to 70,930.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE