Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath says he wants to open as much of the economy as possible – provided it is safe to do so.
Mr McGrath was speaking as he arrived for a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, where ministers are discussing plans to lift level five restrictions at the end of the month.
It is unclear yet how extensive the reopening of the economy will be, but Mr McGrath has hinted it could extend to restaurants and pubs.
He said: “December is a crucial month for large parts of our economy and we also have to take into account that Christmas is a really important time for so many people across the country who want to meet up with loved ones.
“We also have to have regard to the early part of next year, so that we are starting next year on the best possible footing. There are a lot of considerations to take into account.
“I would like to see as much of the economy open as possible, provided it can be done in a safe and a responsible way and it doesn’t compromise unduly the progress we have made on public health grounds.”
Cabinet is meeting to discuss the strategy for exiting lockdown on Tuesday, ahead of a Nphet meeting on Wednesday to decide on its recommendations to Government.
Cabinet will then meet again on Thursday ahead of a final decision to be made public before the end of the week.
The Government is expected 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, the Irish Examiner understands 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.
Meanwhile, the Irish College of General Practitioners’ (ICGP) lead adviser on Covid-19, warned that it is inevitable that cases will rise after Christmas.
Nuala O’Connor told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “It’s inevitable that the more people mix together the more cases are going to start to rise again, because we know that this virus loves when people get together.”
Dr O’Connor urged people to think about the ways they could celebrate Christmas in a safe manner.
She said: “The important thing is that we do know how to get together in a safer way. We’ve got to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
“I do think it is possible for us to start to interact with each other, but in a safe manner.
“At the end of the day, we’ve made huge strides. We only have to look at Europe to see how well that Ireland has done.
“What’s important is that over the Christmas period, we all think very carefully about who are the people that we really want to spend time with and to spend time with them in as safe a manner as possible, to reduce resurgence of this virus and another peak in January.”
Asked on Monday if Nphet will recommend emerging from Level 5 restrictions as scheduled at the start of December, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan declined to speculate.
He said efforts to suppress the virus in the coming days would influence the shape of the restrictions next month.
And the CMO said the more progress that was made, the more potential relaxations Nphet could contemplate.
Dr Holohan said: “It’s never easy to be providing advice on the basis that you know that if that advice is accepted that it has implications for people, not just in their daily lives, and how they live their lives and their interactions and things that are important to them, but obviously in the functioning of the economy and people who have businesses and in particular people who have had jobs and have been out of work for long periods of time.
“So we take those decisions and offer that advice in full understanding of that.”