Tánaiste: Impossible to rule out January lockdown for 'two or three weeks'

Leo Varadkar says the current plan is that Ireland would move down from level 5 for up to two weeks in order to allow people to meet family over the festive period.
Tánaiste: Impossible to rule out January lockdown for 'two or three weeks'

As the Government prepares this week to ease restrictions for Christmas, it is feared the country will see a rise in virus cases in January due to household mixing.

The Tánaiste says it's impossible to rule out another level 5 lockdown in January.

As the Government prepares this week to ease restrictions for Christmas, it is feared the country will see a rise in virus cases in January due to household mixing. However, Leo Varadkar says he hopes a post-Christmas move to level 5 would not be as long as the current six-week lockdown.

Nphet will meet on Wednesday and will offer its advice to a Covid cabinet sub-committee, before a full Cabinet meeting on Friday, after which the Government will inform the public of the plan. The Tánaiste said the Government would try and keep the plan "as simple as possible" for people to follow.

Mr Varadkar said it was the Government's aim to give people as normal a Christmas as possible within public health guidelines.

"We want people to be able to meet their family and meet their friends over the Christmas period, we know people are going to do it anyway, so it's better that we provide for it in a safe way," he said.

"The earliest will be Friday before we're able to give people more information, but, of course, it's the Government's objective to allow people to have a family dinner on Christmas day as normal as possible, but it's too early to make that call.

"So, unfortunately, it's not possible to rule out a return to level 5 at some point next year, but we're going to try and avoid that, first of all by not easing the restrictions too much.

I don't think anybody can honestly rule that out as a possibility, but if it does happen at all, we would intend it to be much shorter, more like two or three weeks than the six we've experienced.

"We've seen how the virus, once it reaches a certain point, can return to exponential growth. We saw that about two months ago here in Ireland, we saw it in Germany, initially countries that had had a much lower incidence than us, the virus just suddenly taking off over the course of a week or two."

The Tánaiste said the current plan was that Ireland would move down from level 5 for up to two weeks  to allow people to meet family over the festive period.

"We've got the virus down to much lower levels than in Northern Ireland or in Britain, we think we'll be able to do that for a much longer period than the five or six days they're talking about," Mr Varadkar added.

"We hope to have to do it for something closer to two weeks, and the idea then is that a date would then kick in, in January, where restrictions will be tightened again, but again, that'll depend on the numbers.

"When you've changed the rules, it's actually very easy to make a mistake and break the rules without even realising it, especially if they change all the time, or if they vary from place to place, so we're going to do our best to make them simple.

"Obviously, we would like to do the maximum reopening from next week, but that we think is not safe.

"We think it makes more sense to do a phased-in phase.

We know from the data that the highest risk scenarios are people congregating, particularly in hospitality, and sporting settings, also people congregating in private households. 

"The things we'll do at the start are the things that we know to be safer, for example, opening the shops, opening the gyms, allowing people to avail of personal services, like getting their haircuts, for example."

"If we think the virus is taking off again, we need to act to keep it under control to keep numbers down, at least until the vaccine is available."

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet this morning to consider whether the country should exit level 5 Covid-19 restrictions next week.

Cinemas, museums, and art galleries are to reopen from December 2 under the Government’s planned exit from level 5 restrictions.

Closer to Christmas, the third phase will allow household visits as well as allowing travel anywhere in the country. This measure is aimed at allowing people to travel home and see loved ones.

It is expected that, under level 3, people will be able to travel within their own county from next week, with a further loosening expected closer to Christmas to allow people to see their families.

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