Covid-19: Taoiseach announces whole country to move to Level 3

The Government will advise against hugging and shaking hands over Christmas this evening when it announces a "balanced" plan to exit Level 5
Covid-19: Taoiseach announces whole country to move to Level 3

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation. Picture: Julien Behal

The Cabinet has approved its multi-phase plan to re-open the economy and society from next Tuesday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced that the whole country will move to Level 3, with a number of exceptions in place for the Christmas period.

The move to Level 3 will allow all retail, including non-essential stores re-open along with gyms, churches, museums, galleries and cinemas.

The re-opening of retail will see more than 30,000 people return to work.

The Government has announced:

From December 1:

  • Households should not mix with any other households outside those within their bubble.
  • People should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes.
  • Gatherings of 15 people may take place outdoors.
  • Non-contact training may take place outdoors in pods of 15.
  • Only individual training should take place indoors and no exercise or dance classes are permitted.
  • No matches/events may take place except professional and elite sports, approved inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and approved equestrian events, all behind closed doors.
  • Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools may reopen for individual training only.
  • Nightclubs, discos and casinos should remain closed.
  • Hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs may open with services limited to residents only.
  • Non-essential retail and personal services may reopen.
  • People should continue to work from home unless absolutely necessary to attend in person.
  • Public transport capacity is limited to 50%

From December 4:

  • Restaurants and pubs operating as restaurants (serving a substantial meal) may reopen for indoor dining with additional restrictions, (including requirement for meals to be prepared on site, inside the premises). This includes access for non-residents to restaurants in hotels.
  • Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online.

From December 18 to January 6:

  • Households can mix with up to two other households.
  • Travel outside your county to be permitted.

In his state of the nation address, Mr Martin majored on the need for people to take personal responsibility in combatting the virus and managing the risk in the phases of re-opening.

“Every contact counts,” he said.

“We are trusting business owners, and we are trusting their customers. We all have individual personal responsibility, and by closely following the rules. we believe we can make this reopening sustainable,” he said.

In what will be seen as a major blow to wet pubs, Mr Martin said there was no evidence to support the re-opening them.

“Unfortunately, nothing in the research available to government supports any further reopening of so called wet pubs at this stage. I know how deeply frustrating this will be for business owners in this sector. I fully accept their goodwill about respecting guidelines. But the reality is that reopening indoor hospitality carries risks. And there's only so far, we can safely go,” he said.

“In easing restrictions, we are going as far as we believe is possible it is possible to achieve the best balance of health, economic, and social considerations, but no further,” Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach said he and the Government are satisfied that this combination of new arrangements strikes a safe balance between maintaining the pressure on the disease and creating space for families, friends and loved ones to be together this Christmas. After Christmas comes the new year. The days will start to lengthen again. And we can face into 2021 with renewed hope, he said.

He said that as we go through the daily experience of the fight against Covid, it can be easy to forget the magnitude of what it is we are fighting against.

“Tonight, as I speak to you, this virus has killed more than 3000 people on our island. That is a terrible toll, and behind that number, there are many thousands of partners, children siblings and friends who are grieving,” he said.

“We learned key lessons from the first wave. And through this great national effort we've pushed the virus back to the point where we now have the second lowest infection rate in the European Union,” he said.

He said many individuals and businesses have made huge sacrifices, and many more are totally fed up with Covid-19 and everything that has come with it over the past nine months. “I understand that feeling very often I shared it,” Mr Martin said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation. Picture: Julien Behal
Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation. Picture: Julien Behal

In a message to young people, Mr Martin praised their resilience and said they are the future of the country.

“And I have a message for our children. I know this is a very special time of year for you. And I know this is a very special night with the Toy Show coming very soon.” “But I want to say thank you. Your strength and the way you've coped with the challenge of Covid is an inspiration. You keep us going and drive us forward. You are the future of this country. And we all want to make sure that you have the opportunity to grow and drive,” he said.

In terms of foreign travel, from midnight Sunday, foreign travellers returning from red countries in the EU traffic light system can reduce their 14-day quarantine period to five days if they get a negative test within 3 days prior to flying and again after the five day period.

From December 18 to January 6, the countywide travel restriction will be relaxed to allow travel anywhere in the 26 counties.

A decision on travel to Northern Ireland will be taken in advance of December 18.

In what as seen as the major relaxation, during that period of reprieve up to three households can gather in a home with no stated limit on the number of people.

“Government did not want to be too prescriptive on this point, but we are asking people to use their common sense,” said a minister.

Despite reports to the contrary, several Cabinet sources said there was no discussion about “banning hugging” over Christmas at the meeting today. They said to be compliant with the guidelines, hugging is not encouraged but no one is going to be policing that, ministers said.

The Government has also decided to issue an advisory that face masks are to be recommended for outdoor crowded spaces, like busy shopping streets, but it will not be the law.

Senior Government sources have said they realise they are taking a “calculated risk” but have argued the progress made since entering Level 5 restrictions has enabled the relaxation of the rules.

The message tonight from government will have a strong emphasis on personal responsibility and will include a major publicity campaign stating that “every contact counts”.

The Government will be saying that while it wants people to have a good Christmas they want it to be a “safe Christmas”.

People will be told to limit their social and family interactions over the Christmas period.

The Cabinet accepted a recommendation from the Covid-sub committee which decided to eschew the warnings and recommendations from Nphet on Thursday night.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said that while Cabinet needs to consider all the information, it is important that progress made is “not squandered”.

"We just need to make sure that we don’t squander that progress" while at the same time allowing for "a safe and meaningful Christmas,” he said.

"Christmas is different for different people" - some would like to go out for a meal in a safe environment and others would like to have visitors in their homes.

"We as a people will have a menu. We don’t need to feel it’s a to-do list."

In relation to home visits, he said if the hospitality sector is opened and home visits are allowed "we need to exercise a bit of common sense".

"Don’t have a crowd around to the house tonight, go out to a busy restaurant tomorrow and then have another few around the next night. 

"Let’s use the common sense we’ve all seen the Irish people show in spades. I trust the people of this country. They have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to keep their families safe, to save lives and to try and get our country through this. 

"I have no doubt that will continue,” he said.

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