Shops, hairdressers and hotels expected to reopen next week

Government looking at limited reopening of social and economic life

 Grafton Street in Dublin on Tuesday, with Christmas lights overhead. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Grafton Street in Dublin on Tuesday, with Christmas lights overhead. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The Government is moving towards a limited reopening of social and economic life next week, with shops, hairdressers, museums and galleries likely to open their doors at the end of six weeks of Level 5 restrictions.

Government sources said last night that hotels will likely reopen on either December 1st or 2nd with facilities restricted to residents only. Hotel owners have lobbied the Government to lift travel restrictions to allow people travel between counties. Officials are highly reluctant to permit this in the short-term but travel restrictions are expected to lift later in December.

However, new research conducted for the Department of the Taoiseach has alarmed Ministers and senior officials when it comes to reopening pubs and restaurants.

Conducted by consultants EY and based on studying the spread of the virus to date, the research is understood to warn about the dangers of infections in congregated settings where alcohol is served.

While no decision has yet been taken on whether to permit restaurants and pubs to reopen later in the month, it is expected that those which serve food may be allowed to open later in December subject to strict social-distancing controls. But senior sources believe it is very unlikely that pubs that do not serve food will be allowed to open.

Reopening plan

Last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government would “go as far as possible but no further” in the reopening plan due to be unveiled later this week, while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned the reintroduction of some restrictions in January or February might be necessary after Christmas.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet today to consider its recommendations to the Government on the plan for reopening and for managing the pandemic during the Christmas period.

There are expected to be intense discussions between Ministers and public health experts in the coming days, as the Government seeks to find a balance between reopening in time for Christmas and avoiding another resurgence of the disease in late December/early January.

The National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square. Museums and galleries are also likely to open their doors at the end of six weeks of Level 5 restrictions.
The National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square. Museums and galleries are also likely to open their doors at the end of six weeks of Level 5 restrictions.

It is understood that as well as the EY research, the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure have also conducted their own economic analysis of the current lockdown. Sources said the analysis suggested public health outcomes had been disappointing, given the extent of restrictions, and the fall in new infections was substantially achieved by the less strict Level 3 restrictions in place before Level 5 was introduced in late October.

One source said: “Stringency [of lockdown] has led to an enormous jobs hit without the compensating public health outcomes.”

Last night, the numbers of new cases continued to fall with Nphet reporting 226 new cases and the deaths of six more people from Covid-19, the lowest number of daily cases reported since late September. The 14-day incidence of the disease nationally has fallen to 107.8 cases per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, new analysis from the Central Statistics Office shows Covid-19 is the fourth biggest underlying cause of death this year.

Cancer is the biggest killer for both men and women, accounting for 7,269 out of the total of 22,416 deaths registered so far in 2020, the CSO found. Circulatory system diseases were the next biggest underlying cause of death, at 5,886. Mental and behavioural disorders, which includes dementia, were linked to 2,390 deaths, followed by Covid-19, with 1,462.