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Country set for Christmas reopening as Government announces move to Level 3

Three households will be allowed to meet over Christmas while retail, pubs and restaurants will all reopen in December.

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Micheal Martin announced the reopening of all retail, places of worship, hairdressers, cinemas, libraries and museums from December 1 (Julian Behal Photography)

Micheal Martin announced the reopening of all retail, places of worship, hairdressers, cinemas, libraries and museums from December 1 (Julian Behal Photography)

Micheal Martin announced the reopening of all retail, places of worship, hairdressers, cinemas, libraries and museums from December 1 (Julian Behal Photography)

The Government has announced a move to Level 3 of coronavirus restrictions from next month – paving the way for a widespread reopening of the country before Christmas.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin addressed the nation on Friday evening, announcing the reopening of all retail, places of worship, hairdressers, cinemas, libraries and museums from December 1.

Restaurants, cafes and gastropubs will follow on December 4 – but so-called wet pubs will be forced to remain shut.

Mr Martin said: “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.”

People will be asked to continue to work from home, and are now advised to wear facemasks in crowded outdoor spaces, workplaces and places of worship.

The ban on inter-county travel will remain in place, but will be lifted from December 18 until January 6, to allow for Christmas gatherings.

During that time people will be allowed leave their county and meet indoors with up to two other households.

The Taoiseach said: “We have been able to achieve this because you have taken personal responsibility, you understand the danger of what we are dealing with and you have made choices that minimised the risk.

“We have been able to achieve this, and do it while keeping our schools, childcare facilities, construction and essential retail services open because of the commitment of the workers in each of those sectors.

“And we have been able to achieve this, while maintaining capacity in our hospitals and continuing to treat sick people across the country because of the ongoing courage and dedication of our healthcare community.

“To quote Pope Francis in his recent reflection on the pandemic, ‘They are the saints next door… They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference.'”

Places of worship will reopen for services on December 1 with restrictive measures in place. This will be reviewed again in January.

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Mr Martin said: “In easing restrictions, we are going as far as we believe is possible to achieve the best balance of health, economic and social considerations. But no further.

“The Government and I are satisfied that this combination of new arrangements strikes a safe balance between maintaining the pressure on the disease and creating space for families, friends and loved ones to be together this Christmas.”

The Taoiseach urged people and businesses to take personal responsibility for their own safety and keep the infection rate down during the Christmas period.

He said: “In making this decision, we are trusting business owners and we are trusting their customers.

“We all have individual personal responsibility, and by closely following the rules we believe we can make this reopening sustainable.

“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.”

The Taoiseach also paid tribute to the nation’s children, who he described as an “inspiration” during the pandemic.

He said: “I know this is a very special time of year for you, and I know this is a very special night with the Toy Show coming very soon.

“But I want to say thank you. Your strength and the way you’ve coped with the challenge of Covid is an inspiration.

“You keep us going and drive us forward. You are the future of this country and we all want to make sure that you have the opportunity to grow and thrive.

“You’re going to hear a lot about Roald Dahl tonight. In keeping with that, remember what the small foxes said to their father, the Fantastic Mr Fox, ‘We can do it! You see if we can’t. You can too!'”

The announcement follows a week of intense discussions between the Government and public health officials.

Nphet had strongly urged against the reopening of indoor dining in restaurants and pubs, in conjunction with lifting the ban on household visits.

The Government’s response appears to have been to take a staggered approach to reopenings.

But they were handed a significant boost ahead of the announcement, with news that the number of daily cases has dropped to 206 – the lowest figure since mid-September.

Significantly, Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 has fallen below 100 per 100,000.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly tweeted: “Just got the latest Covid figures and am delighted to share that for the first time in quite a while our 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 has fallen below 100 (98). And our seven day is 40, suggesting our cases are still falling.”

Earlier, the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) said any decision to keep wet pubs closed while other parts of hospitality are allowed to open would be a “political decision” by the coalition Government based on “zero evidence”.

LVA chief executive Donall O’Keeffe said: “The Government can’t hide behind Nphet now if they decide to single out the ‘wet’ pubs and keep them closed.

“It will now be quite clear this is a decision that is only being made by members of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party, and they will have to own that decision. Nphet didn’t tell them that only the ‘wet’ pubs should be kept closed.

“There is no evidence which exists that ‘wet’ pubs pose a greater risk than restaurants or gastropubs. The same regulations and enforcements are in place for all these types of venue – the same social distancing and the same time limits.”

Restaurateurs have called for the Government to provide clear and concise guidelines ahead of any reopening.

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