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Ireland reopens in time for Christmas

Ireland reopens in time for Christmas

Shops, hairdressers, gyms, restaurants and pubs serving food will resume operation

Following last week’s Government decision to reopen Ireland for Christmas, travel and indoor dining curbs will be loosened, while new recommendations regarding the use of face masks will take effect from tomorrow, reports RTÉ.

Level 3 restrictions reintroduced

On 1 December, when the country returns to relaxed Level 3 restrictions, retail outlets, hairdressers, museums, libraries and gyms will reopen. From that day, people will also be able to attend religious services and sports training sessions.

From Friday, 4 December, restaurants, including dining rooms in hotels, and pubs that serve food, will reopen to the public with new rules in place. Diners will be permitted to stay for up to 1 hour and 45 minutes, and longer if the tables are set further than 2m apart.

The so-called “wet pubs’’ will be only allowed to offer takeaway drinks but will be eligible for additional supports. The suspicion that wet pubs could be “coronavirus superspreaders”, is supported by a new data analysis, commissioned by the Government and carried out by Ernst & Young. It concludes that counties where drinks-only pubs had reopened on 21 September registered a substantial increase in the 14-day Covid-19 incidence rate ten days later, while the increase experienced in Dublin, where wet pubs remained shut, was negligible.

In a U-turn from previous recommendations, the Government now advises that from 1 December, face masks should be worn in crowded workplaces (including office corridors), places of worship, and in busy crowded outdoor areas.  

From 18 December until 6 January, travel between counties will again be possible and the limit on household gatherings will be upped to three households. Until then, people are advised to stay within their counties, unless for work, education or care giving and to work from home where feasible. Travel to Northern Ireland (UK) where the coronavirus situation is worse, awaits additional government decision.

Conflicting reactions

As is the case in most countries, reactions to the government move highlight the deep divide between health authorities and the business community regarding pandemic management. In a letter to the Minister for Health, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan warned that the Covid-19 reproduction rate is likely to rise above one following the easing of restrictions.

On the other hand, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation found the Government's measures unduly restrictive and belated. Publicans fumed that the decision to keep wet pubs shuttered was a "stunning act of Government hypocrisy" which relegated them to the role of second-class citizens inside the hospitality industry. And the hotels' lobby group branded "as short-sighted" the decision not to allow inter-county travel until 18 December.

Concern for people’s mental well-being

The Government's decision to ease the restrictions has been strongly influenced by recent data showing the number of people who are depressed or downhearted most of the time has increased twofold - from 2,8 percent in 2018 to 5,5 percent earlier this year. Even more pronounced has been the rise in the ranks of people experiencing low overall life satisfaction. Their number skyrocketed from 8,7 percent in 2018 to 29,6 percent this year, or almost double the figure seen at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.



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