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Leap of faith Extra masses planned for Christmas to allow for safe attendance

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Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin celebrates Christmas mass in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin celebrates Christmas mass in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin celebrates Christmas mass in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral

Extra masses may be arranged in Catholic churches over Christmas to allow people to safely attend and "celebrate the religious meaning of the season", Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said last night.

He was responding to Taoiseach Micheál Martin's confirmation that the relaxation of lockdown next month will allow religious services to resume.

Dr Martin said churches may have additional masses over Christmas, although this could pose some difficulties and would mean churches would need to be disinfected between services.

"I would encourage people to attend mass over a particular period, not necessarily Christmas Day," he said.

"In the United States, they're asking people to register in advance and that's not easy to impose on people," he told RTÉ.

The longer services are allowed to resume, the easier it is for "people to get some sense of Christmas".

However, he said it is important that Christmas should not be confined to within church walls, and it is also important for children to "have a sense of the wonder of the birth of Jesus, even if it means seeing a crib through a church door".

The archbishop also expressed concern about the homeless and said their traditional Christmas dinner at the RDS, which he attends, is cancelled this year.

"We can watch mass on television, but we're "really a people who gather and come together", he added.

It is also important for people's mental health and the good of society, he said.

Dr Martin said he expects places of worship to be open for Christmas week, and the aim was to reduce restrictions to Level 3 next month in a staged approach with additional concessions.

Deaths

His comments came as seven additional deaths from Covid-19 were reported yesterday, while the number of daily confirmed cases rose to 482, up from 395 on Thursday.

The numbers of patients in hospital fell to 258 from 279, while 35 were in intensive care, a drop from 39 the previous day.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: "The increase in case numbers of Covid-19 today is an important reminder of the unpredictable nature of this highly-infectious disease.

"The hard work undertaken by all of us over the last three weeks is to be commended, but we must not allow our success to date let us drop our guard against the spread of this disease.

"We need to hold firm to the public health advice - keep two metres of a distance, wash our hands, wear face coverings where appropriate and limit ourselves to essential contacts from our own household.

"If we can keep up high levels of compliance, we can get to where we need to be on December 1."

The 14-day incidence rate in Donegal, which is still the highest of all counties, fell to 270.7 per 100,000 yesterday, down from 281.4 on Thursday.

Limerick's 14-day incidence rate also went down yesterday to 196.5 per 100,000 from 197.5 the previous day.

Nationally, the 14-day incidence is now at 129.2 per 100,000. The lowest was recorded in July, when it was at 2.98 per 100,000.

Meanwhile, the message from Dr Holohan remains for Irish people abroad not to travel home for Christmas as it could help spread the virus.

A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus said that due to the current lack of demand for air travel, Aer Lingus is operating a much-reduced schedule.

Capacity

While some additional capacity has been added on some key routes, such as Dublin-London Heathrow, over the Christmas period, overall capacity is 25pc that of last year.

The airline is hopeful that implementation of the European traffic light system for travel across Europe and its flexible booking options - including the ability to change any flight on any fare for up to two hours before travel for free - will help to encourage greater demand next year.

A spokeswoman said that, going forward, travel should be based on a rapid and affordable testing solution.

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