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Exiting level five will be ‘very challenging for all’ – Taoiseach

Micheal Martin, the Health Minister and Justice Minister met with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Friday to discuss an exit strategy.

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The Government is set to announce plans to move forward next week (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government is set to announce plans to move forward next week (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government is set to announce plans to move forward next week (Niall Carson/PA)

Exiting lockdown and preparing for Christmas is going to be “very challenging for all”, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheal Martin, along with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Justice Minister Helen McEntee met with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Friday to discuss an exit strategy.

Ireland is due to leave level five restrictions on December 1, with the Government set to announce plans to move forward next week.

But public health chiefs have warned that the progress in bringing down levels of the virus made during lockdown has stalled and say the next two weeks will be critical.

... to give us insights in terms of how we decide in relation to the precise way we exit level five and deal with the next month leading into Christmas, which is going to be very, very important indeed and very challenging for allMicheal Martin

Mr Martin said the meeting with the commissioner had been “very useful” and praised the work of the Gardai during the pandemic.

However, he did not provide any details of an exit strategy.

He said: “I found that a very useful exchange in terms of the next phase of how we deal with Covid-19 for the month of December.

“I found that a very useful exchange in terms of the experience they have garnered over the last while, both in terms of level three and level five and how the Gardai have found both levels.

“That was helpful to us, to give us insights in terms of how we decide in relation to the precise way we exit level five and deal with the next month leading into Christmas, which is going to be very, very important indeed and very challenging for all.”

Mr Martin declined to say if new measures would be introduced to combat people congregating outdoors, after scenes of people drinking on the streets last weekend provoked outrage.

He said: “I think the most important message I would give to people is the importance of all of us watching our own individual behaviour and collective behaviour.”

Eight further Covid-19-linked deaths were reported in Ireland on Friday, along with 330 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

As of 2pm on Friday, 283 coronavirus patients were in hospital, 33 of whom were in intensive care.

Earlier on Friday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe warned the country needs to look “beyond Christmas” ahead of a decision on lifting pandemic restrictions next week.

The decline in transmission rates has stalled, causing health bosses to warn the country has two weeks to turn things around.

With Government meeting next week to decide on a lockdown exit strategy, the Finance Minister talked up the need to keep virus levels low beyond December 25.

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Retailers are keen to reopen ahead of the busy Christmas period as Government mulls a lockdown exit strategy (Brian Lawless/PA)

Retailers are keen to reopen ahead of the busy Christmas period as Government mulls a lockdown exit strategy (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Retailers are keen to reopen ahead of the busy Christmas period as Government mulls a lockdown exit strategy (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Donohoe said: “We do need to look beyond Christmas itself. And be aware that the medium-term goal in advance of a vaccine being broadly available is to get the spread of the disease down to the lowest level possible.

“Christmas is so important from a family point of view, from a wellbeing point of view, and for some from a worship point of view. So I recoil from saying that we’re in some way caught up with it.

“But if you talk to somebody who’s running a business, somebody’s who’s running a restaurant and is thinking of reopening it, they do want certainty beyond the 25th of December.”

Level five restrictions are due to end on December 1 and businesses, retailers and families are all hoping they will be eased in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Donohoe did offer some hope this might happen, saying transmission rates would not be the only factor in their decision.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “The mortality rate is massively down from where we were.

“The number of our citizens that are in ICU are massively down as well. They’re equally important indicators to allow the Government to make the right decisions.”

We are now in a better place. We're just not in as good a place as we would like to be.Paschal Donhoe

Amid rumours of fresh rows between Government and Nphet on the right way forward, Mr Donohoe said he was braced for “intense discussions” with public health chiefs.

He added: “We will be hearing the assessment of Nphet as to where this issue stands.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge in this, that while we have the disease not come down in the way we would want in recent days, it’s also very clear that we are making progress in beating this disease.

“If you look at all the indicators of where we were a few weeks ago, we are now in a better place. We’re just not in as good a place as we would like to be.”

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has warned that progress made on combating the virus during level five has “stalled”.

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