The reopening of hotels, retail, hairdressers, churches, gyms and museums from next Tuesday December 1st has been approved by Government, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced.
The Cabinet met to sign off on the country’s exit from Level 5 restrictions on Friday afternoon.
From Tuesday next the country will move to Level 3 restrictions with some modifications, he confirmed.
People will also be urged to wear masks outdoors on busy streets, within crowded indoor workplaces and in places of worship from that date.
People must continue to stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes until December 18th. People must continue to work from home unless it’s for essential services.
Households should not mix with other households other than those within their bubble until December 18th, the Taoiseach said.
Travel restrictions will be eased from December 18th until January 6th when people can travel outside their county and meet indoors with up to two other households.
Places of worship will open for services from December 1st with restrictive measures in place. This will be reviewed again in January, Mr Martin said.
Museums, galleries, cinemas and libraries with protective measures in place will reopen from December 1st also.
Restaurants and gastropubs with their own kitchens will open for indoor dining with additional restrictions next Friday, December 4th.
Hotels may open for indoor dining also from that date.
Wet pubs not serving food will remain closed.
“Unfortunately, nothing in the research available to Government supports any further reopening of so-called ‘wet pubs’ at this stage. I know how deeply frustrating this will be for business owners in this sector. I fully accept their goodwill about respecting guidelines - but the reality is that reopening indoor hospitality carries risks and there is only so far we can safely go.
“I want to reassure them that additional supports, over and above what is currently in place, will be made available to owners to help them into the new year and prepare for their eventual reopening,” the Taoiseach said.
Cabinet also approved plans to enable specific seasonal attractions or events over the Christmas period to go ahead, thought to include activities such as outdoor Christmas or Santa experiences. It is understood that Fáilte Ireland have developed guidelines for this.
Addressing the country live on TV at 6pm the Taoiseach said the virus had killed more than 3,000 people on the island of Ireland which was a terrible toll. Many were struggling with the after effects.
The “efforts and sacrifices” made by the Irish people “is working” and “lives have been saved”.
“We learned key lessons from the first wave and we’ve pushed the virus back to the point where we have the second lowest infection rate in the EU.”
There had been much speculation, he said, about what a meaningful Christmas would look like. The Government had examined the views of the National Public Health Emergency team (Nphet). “We have also examined additional research on how the disease has spread and the factors which influence this.”
“This cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to, but it will be a very special time when we will all be able to enjoy some respite from the hardships of 2020 and in particular the last six weeks,” the Taoiseach said.
He also announced the government had updated guidance on the wearing of masks. From December 1st, people will be asked to wear masks outdoors on busy streets, in crowded indoor work places and in places of worship.
“In easing restrictions we are going as far as we believe is possible to achieve the best balance of health, economics and social considerations but no further.”
He noted that the entire world was watching with “great anticipation” the news of the development of a series of vaccines and the promising results. The “national vaccine task force is already at work and will ensure that as a country we are ready to move quickly and efficiently to roll out safe vaccines when they are authorised and available”, said the Taoiseach. He added funding and “key contracts” were in place and that distribution would be “fast, comprehensive and fair”.
The Irish people are “smart” and “each of us knows how to manage risk in our interactions over the coming period”, said Mr Martin.
“After nine months of learning about how this virus is spreading in our community one overwhelming lesson has emerged; every contact counts.”
In a special message to the children of Ireland, the Taoiseach commended their strength and said the way they had coped during the pandemic was “an inspiration”.
“You keep us going and drive us forward. You are the future of this country and we all want to make sure you have the opportunity to grow and thrive.”
He noted 2020 has “been a remarkable year” where Irish people have shown “extraordinary resilience” and made “huge sacrifices for the common good.
“We now have the opportunity to enjoy a different but special Christmas”.
From 1st December, under Level 3 restrictions, as set out in the Plan for Living with Covid-19 the following will be allowed:
* Weddings with up to 25 guests are permitted (same as current provisions).
* Funerals with up to 25 mourners are permitted (same as current provisions).
* No organised indoor events should take place, other than as provided for specifically.
* Gatherings of 15 people may take place outdoors.
* Non-contact training may take place outdoors in pods of 15.
* Only individual training should take place indoors and no exercise or dance classes are permitted.
* No matches/events may take place except professional and elite sports, approved inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and approved equestrian events, all behind closed doors.
* Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools may reopen for individual training only.
* Nightclubs, discos and casinos should remain closed.
* Hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs may open with services limited to residents only.
* Non-essential retail and personal services may reopen.
* People should continue to work from home unless absolutely necessary to attend in person.
* Public transport capacity is limited to 50 per cent
From 1st December:
* Households should not mix with any other households outside those within their bubble;
* People should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes;
From 4th December:
* Restaurants and pubs operating as restaurants (serving a substantial meal) may reopen for indoor dining with additional restrictions, (including requirement for meals to be prepared on site, inside the premises). This includes access for non-residents to restaurants in hotels.
* Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online.
Adjustments for the Christmas Period
From 1st December:
* Places of worship to reopen for services with restrictive measures, subject to review in January
* Museums, galleries, and libraries to reopen
* Cinemas to reopen
* Wet pubs to remain closed except for takeaway/delivery
From 18th December to 6th January:
* Households can mix with up to two other households
* Travel outside your county to be permitted
From the 7th of January:
* The measures put in place prior to the 18th of December will apply, subject to ongoing review of the trajectory of the virus.
The measures for cross-border travel will be the same as for travel between all other counties. From December 1st, people should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes while from December 18th to January 6th, travel outside the county is permitted.
The Government is now expected to launch a major publicity campaign urging people to have a “safe Christmas” after the announcements of a lifting of the lockdown and the reopening of social and economic life.
People will be told that “every contact counts” and told to limit their social and family interactions over the Christmas period.
Political sources said that ministers realise they are taking a risk with the relaxation of the restrictions but were conscious of the “need to bring people with us”. Ministers were determined to consider a range of factors, not just the public health warnings about the prospect of increased infections.
Meanwhile, The Irish Times understands that chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan was not present for the political discussion and conclusions reached by the Cabinet sub-committee on Thursday night in relation to easing the restrictions.
According to sources, there were presentations at the start of the meeting by Dr Holohan and Prof Philip Nolan from Nphet, and also from Paul Reid of the HSE and Pádraig Dalton, the head of the Central Statistics Office. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe also made a presentation at the beginning of the meeting on the economic issues, focussing heavily on the costs to the Exchequer of the lockdown – which he said were running to a billion euros a month – and on the rising unemployment.
Dr Holohan and Prof Nolan insisted that it was the right move to go to Level 5 restrictions in October, a point of some disagreement among several people in Government. However, the Nphet team and the other officials left the meeting to allow the politicians discuss the issues and reach a decision, it is understood.
The Government rejected advice from the State’s public health experts after the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee met for five hours on Thursday night.
Earlier Mr Reid acknowledged there could be a spike in Covid-19 cases after Christmas.
That was “a legitimate concern” he told Newstalk Breakfast. “This is in our hands, we can make this a safe Christmas. People deserve a break. I would ask people to work with us,” he said.
If the public works with the authorities then lockdown should not be inevitable in January, Mr Reid said. “We’re in a strong position going in,” he said.
Ireland has one of the strongest positions in Europe with regard to the level of Covid cases, he said. Ireland was in this position because of the behaviour of the public. This period could be used now to further strengthen that position and allow for a safe Christmas.
Mr Reid said there was “a staircase of risks” and that every step of the process was a risk. What the Government had to do was to “take a whole lot of advice,” from Nphet, from the HSE, from the CSO and from economic data.
“They have to take a balanced set of risks, they have to consider all of the input and then decide.”
On Friday morning Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan said his personal view was that the country should go to Level 2 when the Level 5 restrictions are lifted. “People need to see benefit at the end of the process.”
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr O’Callaghan said he had opposed going to Level 5 as he thought no matter what steps were taken the numbers would go up again when the restrictions were lifted.
The consequences of the disease were known, but it was only now that the negative impact of the lockdown was being experienced, he said.
He wanted to see restrictions lifted so young people could go back to their pastimes.
“The number of cases are going to go up no matter what we do - Level 2 or Level 3. We have learned a lot since the last lockdown, it is household visits that are the primary cause.”
Mr O’Callaghan said he would allow bars and restaurants to open because they have robust protection measures in place. The second wave had not been as bad as the first wave. During the first wave between February and June there were 1,736 Covid deaths while between July and November, the number of deaths from the virus was 300, he said.
In a letter to Government, 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.
Elsewhere infectious diseases specialist Professor Sam McConkey said the safest way to visit relatives this Christmas would be to effectively create a family bubble for the two weeks in advance.
Limiting social engagements for 14 days before visiting elderly relatives would be the safest thing to do this Christmas, he told RTÉ Today with Claire Byrne show.
“Unfortunately there’s nothing fair about this virus. The pandemic has been unfair to lots of people. Many of us have had their lives turned upside down.”
There could be safer ways to open the hospitality industry as has been done in Finland, he said, but he acknowledged that in Scandinavia there is a winter outdoor culture with “different traditions.”
It would be challenging to open the retail sector, the hospitality sector and to allow family gatherings. “None of us wants to be oscillating back and forth between Level 3 and Level 5 and back to Level 3 again.”
Prof McConkey called for “intense public health controls” with a focus on those who have the virus rather than those who do not. He pointed out that it could be possible to allow the pubs to open in Leitrim where numbers are low, but only to locals. “Some areas have controlled the virus very well.”