New Level 5 as Govt works on assumption new strain here

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that the country will return to Level 5 restrictions with adjustments between 24 December and 12 January.

Mr Martin said the move was in response to the extraordinary increase in Covid-19 cases, with a 10% daily growth rate that is “simply not sustainable”.

Speaking at Government Buildings, he said that while there is no evidence yet the more virulent strain of the coronavirus is here, “the safest and most responsible thing to do is to proceed on the assumption that it is already here”.

He said the Government has decided to move quickly and meet the renewed threat “aggressively and head on”.

Mr Martin said that “we will do whatever it takes to get through this pandemic safely”.

The Taoiseach said the sacrifices being made by everyone have already saved lives and will save more lives.

The Cabinet today agreed that people can travel beyond their county until the end of St Stephen’s Day, 26 December.

The changes will allow people after 26 December to stay where they are at that point and travel back to their own home later. However, there will be no new inter-county travel allowed after that date.

Household visits will be reduced to one other household from 27 December.

Restaurants and gastro pubs must close at 3pm on Christmas Eve.

Travel restrictions from Britain will remain until 31 December.

From 1 January, no visitors are permitted in private homes or gardens except for essential family reasons, providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people, or as part of a support bubble.

Hairdressers are to close on Christmas Eve. Non-essential retail will remain open as will gyms for individual training only.

Golf and tennis clubs will stay open and non-contact training in pods of up to 15 will be allowed outdoors.

The number of wedding guests will be reduced to six from 2 January. Public worship is to move online from 26 December but can stay open for private prayer.

The restrictions agreed today are to be reviewed on 12 January.

The Government is to engage with shops and request no major sales events after Christmas.

Schools, childcare and early learning services will return as normal in January after the Christmas break.

At a press conference following the Taoiseach’s announcement, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said people need to operate on the basis that these restrictions will be in place for the first two months of next year.

Mr Varadkar said while it is difficult to speculate on a timeline, it will probably be the towards the end of February or early March before a critical mass of the population is vaccinated.

The situation will be reviewed on 12 January, he said, adding that the safest thing people can do is stay at home.

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