Taoiseach: Country will move to level 3 on December 1

Shops will open but Cabinet divided over whether pubs and restaurants should fully reopen
Taoiseach: Country will move to level 3 on December 1

Cabinet remain at odds over whether pubs and restaurants should fully reopen ahead of the usually busy Christmas period. Picture: Larry Cummins

The country is set to move back to level 3 restrictions from next week, but the Taoiseach has cast doubt over large gatherings involving alcohol.

Cabinet remain at odds over whether pubs and restaurants should fully reopen ahead of the usually busy Christmas period and the final decisions around the easing of these restrictions are not expected to be hammered out until Thursday

Speaking to the Irish Examiner Micheál Martin said shops will reopen from December 1. He said the Government will be "flexible" in terms of guidance that they will give families, particularly on Christmas week itself, but cautioned that "individual behaviour" and "our own collective behaviour is going to be critical" on how we get through the festive season.

Mr Martin also said the rollout of an effective vaccine in the first half of 2021 would spark a "rebound for the economy".

While the Government will listen to any recommendations Nphet provide later this week, they have also commissioned a separate body of work to identify specific places or circumstances where the virus is most likely to spread and are also looking at the socio-economic impacts of certain measures. All of this will feed into the final Cabinet decision.

Mr Martin said: "Our aim has always been to exit level 5 onto level 3 on December 1, that is our aim and our objective and that would allow non-essential retail to open up and to give something in advance of Christmas to them.

"What our own data is showing us really is looking back over the summer to the September, October period is that congregation, large crowds gathering, alcohol, events, all of those things coming together proved the cause of a lot of spikes in different parts of the country, we have to try to avoid that again into the future, people need to be aware of that," he said.

Different options

Clear divisions are emerging within Government over the level of restrictions that should be implemented in the coming weeks, with some ministers arguing that so-called wet pubs should stay shut. 

However, others believe that if restaurants are allowed to serve customers indoors then all other establishments should also be permitted to reopen.

One senior Government source said allowing businesses that serve food to trade while keeping wet-pubs shut is "probably where we are going to land".

"What people are talking about is a level 3 plus, but what exactly the plus means becomes impossible to speculate on at this stage."

However, another Minister said: "If you are going to let restaurants open and serve people indoors, if you are going to do that is there not a logic in allowing pubs service people at tables?"

"There are different views in Government on this because some people believe it is safer to get together in a controlled environment," the minister said.

A number different options are being thrashed out including the introduction of earlier closing times for pubs and off-licences.

It is understood that level 3 restrictions could be further eased in the week or so before Christmas but this could be done by way of general advice from Government and not a further move down to level 2 restrictions. This would allow people home to family in other parts of the country.

It comes as one more Covid-related death was reported last night and a further 318 cases of the virus — the lowest number of daily cases in more than a week.

Turning to a post-Covid recovery, Mr Martin said there is currently a "massive amount of savings building up within the economy".

"If we can get an effective vaccine in the first half of 2021 then I think that could be the beginning of a rebound for the economy.

"A lot of spending has been postponed on an individual level obviously in terms of households, but also critically on the corporate side businesses have not been investing either because of the uncertainty. So a lot of businesses have held back in terms of investment," he said.

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