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Level 5 restrictions likely to stay for two months, says Varadkar

Tánaiste believes curbs will be needed until critical mass vaccinated in early spring

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned that 2,000 people per day could be testing positive for Covid-19 by the end of December should current infection trajectories go unchecked. Video: RTÉ

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar: ‘It will probably be towards the end of February or early March before a critical mass of the population is vaccinated and I think we need to operate on the basis that these restrictions will be in place until then.’ Photograph: Julien Behal

Renewed Level 5 restrictions announced by the Government to contain Covid-19 are likely to be in place for more than two months, the Tánaiste said on Tuesday, though they are due to be reviewed in January 12th.

“It will probably be towards the end of February or early March before a critical mass of the population is vaccinated and I think we need to operate on the basis that these restrictions will be in place until then,” Mr Varadkar told a press conference after the Taoiseach’s announcement earlier in the day.

Mr Varadkar said that we were seeing “exponential growth” in the numbers of people infected with the virus which would, “on its current trajectory” see case numbers at 1,000 a day before Christmas and “perhaps 2,000 a day before New Year’s Eve”.

“We don’t know if the new variant is circulating in Ireland but we’re operating on the basis that it is,” Mr Varadkar said, adding that it would make it very difficult to get the R number – the rate at which the virus spreads per person infected – below one.

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Under the restrictions, restaurants and pubs serving food will close at 3pm on Christmas Eve. Hairdressers and personal services will close from Christmas Eve. Non-essential retail will be permitted to stay open, but shops will be asked not to hold sales.

Visits from two households will be allowed until St Stephen’s Day, but that will then be reduced to one household until December 31st, and home visits will be banned completely in the new year.

Mr Varadkar said that while retail was being exempted from the closures, if numbers continued to climb they could face closures in the future. The Government has also decided to widen and extend a variety of Covid-19 supports for business, including a double payment of Covid Restrictions Support Scheme payment – paid to businesses forced to shut – for the next two weeks, with weekly payments resuming after that. Hotels will also be included in the payment even if they are open for a small number of guests.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will also be continued, and there will be a commercial rates holiday in the first quarter of the year. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the briefings from public health officials were “very sobering”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the third wave of the virus was different to the second wave seen in October and November, and the Government was concerned following advice from public health officials that the hospital system could be put under pressure.

The second wave saw limited hospital admissions and low mortality, but Mr Martin said that infections among older people meant that this wave could be very different.

Asked if this would be the last time Level 5 restrictions would be imposed, Mr Martin said: “I can’t say whether this is the last or not.”

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