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no new rules Non-essential retail and gyms to remain open despite surge in cases


Eamon Ryan, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin

Eamon Ryan, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin

Eamon Ryan, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin

Non-essential shops and gyms will remain open and people can still travel within their own counties as the Cabinet imposed no new Covid-19 restrictions last night.

But there is growing concern in Government at what is expected to be a jump in Covid-19 cases which could hit around 2,000 a day by New Year's Eve.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) last week recommended the country enter a full Level 5 lockdown which would involve the closure of clothes shops, other non-essential retailers and gyms as well as bringing back the 5km travel limit.

But while there was a discussion at Cabinet about the worsening Covid-19 situation and today's start to the roll-out of the vaccine, there will be no tightening of restrictions for now.

Retailers who have been allowed to stay open - albeit with instructions not to hold the usual January sales - will breathe a sigh of relief.

But the current restrictions are being kept under review amid the continued worrying spread of the disease.

A source last night said the Cabinet didn't discuss any new restrictions but the Government continues to monitor the situation.

Infections are set to spiral in the coming days as more people are tested for the virus after Christmas.

But there is also an expectation there will be a fall again in early January as the impact of the closure of restaurants and pubs from Christmas Eve onwards and the renewed restrictions on inter-county travel from St Stephen's Day take effect.

All visits to people's homes aside from essential care purposes are to stop again from New Year's Day and are currently restricted to people from just one other household.

The vaccine roll-out - which begins with the Pfizer/BioNTech drug in a small number of hospitals today - was discussed by ministers last night.

Nursing home residents, who are being prioritised for the vaccine, will start to get the injections from January 4 as the roll-out begins in large healthcare settings and some long-term care facilities.


In recent days Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has floated the idea of keeping the current level of restrictions until vulnerable people and healthcare workers are vaccinated.

And he renewed the suggestion yesterday, telling RTÉ: "If restrictions are going to be in place for a prolonged period, not a few weeks but maybe a few months, they need to be ones that are sustainable."

Mr Varadkar was asked whether the Government will consider closing non-essential shops as has been done in the North where cases continue to surge.

The Enterprise Minister said modelling shows that the opening of non-essential retail and the lifting of the 5km limit at the start of December - and previously in the pandemic - "didn't have a major effect on the numbers". Given this, the Government had to consider if closing shops is worth all the other consequences.

The Tánaiste said the intention remains for schools to open as planned.

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Online Editors