The Government is to allow people to visit their family members on Christmas Day — but hugging their relations will not be permitted.
After the three party leaders in Government met on Monday night ahead of a key Cabinet meeting today, theunderstands that while level 3 restrictions will apply in the main, the Government will permit “unfettered” movement across the country to allow families to come together.
All retail, gyms, and hairdressers will be able to open from next week, while a decision on restaurants and other pubs is likely to be made at a later date, possibly the following week.
Restaurants say that they have been told by the Government that daily cases have to be in the 200s for their reopening to be viable.
Strict warnings about keeping gatherings in homes safe will form a central part of the messaging to be rolled out later this week.
These will include ensuring no physical contact with family members not in your immediate family, and that rooms remain well ventilated throughout.
Some Government sources have suggested that for the week or two before Christmas Day, level 2 restrictions on gatherings will apply which will allow six people from two households to meet indoors.
However, others have said that “some flexibility” on those limits will be proposed to ensure parents are not forced to make difficult choices as to who they can see.
“The discussion is whether we focus on the number six, or whether the number of households is the key factor,” said one Government source. "But we do not want parents to be in the position of having to choose their favourite child. Larger family gatherings are unlikely."
Government ministers are believed to want to offer people hope, with fears that the six-week lockdown has been particularly hard this time around.
Speaking at an event in Dublin Port on Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the restrictions have worked in getting the transmission rate down.
"Ireland is second-best in Europe for low numbers of cases,” he said. "Level 3 and level 5 did work, and has worked. There's been a narrative around this that hasn't been helpful or accurate. We've got another week to get the numbers down again."
Mr Martin said his officials have looked at a lot of research from September and October and international data on super-spreading events, gatherings, and congregation with alcohol that facilitate the spread of the virus. He said that, ultimately, vigilance and human behaviour are key.
"What has emerged is the household visit ban after we introduced level 3 seems to have had an impact, so we have to keep that in mind as we move through December,” he said.
"We have a Government meeting tomorrow, getting individual minister's perspectives on it. The Covid Cabinet will meet, and Nphet will meet as well."
The Taoiseach refused to be drawn on the reopening of wet pubs or restaurants, but said: "Level 5 has been difficult, we understand that.
"The good news is what you're doing is working. We're managing our hospitals. We've kept our schools open and construction has stayed open. That's important, the people's work matters and has been effective.”
It was confirmed that this week's Nphet meeting has been moved forward by 24 hours to Wednesday, ahead of the Cabinet's decision on easing coronavirus restrictions.
An additional 252 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed this evening, while no further deaths have been reported.
The expectation is that the country will move into Level 3 from midnight on December 1.