A gulf has emerged between the Government and its medical advisors who have called for gastro-pubs and restaurants to only operate on a takeaway and delivery service basis over Christmas.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has made the recommendation in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
In its letter, Nphet has advised the Government that restrictions on household visits or allowing re-opening hospitality can happen, but not both.
Nphet said if restaurants and other hospitality providers were allowed to reopen for Christmas then visits to people’s homes should be limited to one other household only, sources have said.
The restrictions on those allowed to visit homes could be relaxed further if pubs serving food and restaurants are limited to takeaway services for the duration of the Christmas period.
Nphet has said that should that occur, from December 21, up to six people from three different households could be allowed visit a house.
Government sources have signalled that they had expected Nphet to raise alarm over restaurants opening up, but the intention to allow people have a good Christmas remains.
The recommendation from Nphet is being discussed by the Cabinet sub-Committee on Covid-19 this evening. Also attending that meeting are Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan and HSE Chief Paul Reid.
Thealso understands that the public health officials have said that only two households should be permitted to gather indoors after the move out of Level 5.
As revealed earlier this week, it has been proposed that such restrictions on gathering in homes would be relaxed further to enable six people from at most three households meet indoors closer to Christmas.
It is understood that Nphet is proposing that the country be moved into “enhanced” Level 3 restrictions from December 2.
The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 is due to meet this afternoon to discuss Nphet’s advice and a range of data compiled on behalf of the Department of the Taoiseach by auditors EY.
Commenting earlier on reports that Nphet were opposed to easing restrictions on the hospitality industry after the exit from Level 5, senior Government sources said “we are not surprised” at the conclusions from the National Public Health Emergency Team ahead of the publication of the Government’s plan on Friday.
“Nphet see things solely through the prism of public health. We have to look at societal, economic and other considerations. It is no surprise Nphet are concerned about pubs and restaurants, we expected that. But they advise and government decides. Opening up is a risk, a calculated risk but one worth taking,” a senior Government source said.
Thereported earlier that the CMO Dr Tony Holohan briefed Health Minister Stephen Donnelly following a protracted Nphet meeting.
Sources confirmed that public health officials were “deeply concerned” about several elements proposed in the re-opening plan, particularly allowing restaurants and gastro pubs reopen.
It has been confirmed that level 5 restrictions will be eased down to level 3 next week, allowing more than 30,000 people return to work in retail, hairdressers and gyms.
According to sources, pubs serving food and restaurants will be able to open on December 4 or December 7.
It has also been confirmed that travel restrictions are to be eased for two weeks around Christmas, allowing people to travel anywhere in the country to enable them to spend Christmas with their families.
A meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid is taking place later today and a full Cabinet meeting is expected tomorrow.