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Travel ban likely to last two more weeks after level 5 is over

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The popular International Bar in Dublin’s city centre is closed

The popular International Bar in Dublin’s city centre is closed

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

The popular International Bar in Dublin’s city centre is closed

Covid-19 restrictions on travel between counties and household visits will only be eased just before Christmas, under plans being discussed by Government.

When the lockdown comes to an end on December 1, the Government is planning to move into Level 3 restrictions for at least two weeks before easing the coronavirus regulations further.

Under Level 3, people can only travel within their own county and no more than two households can meet indoors in a family homes.

The restrictions would significantly limit activities for families hoping to celebrate Christmas together after a year of Covid-19 restrictions.

However, a senior Government source said they are hoping to introduce a "greater level of flexibility" on travel and household visits in the weeks before Christmas day.

This could mean restrictions are eased a week or two before Christmas to allow people see their families and friends.

A final decision has not been taken on how to address the festive period and Government sources say much will depend on the spread of the virus after the lockdown ends.

Yesterday, chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will give Government advice on Christmas regulations on November 26.

Mr Holohan has also sought advice on Christmas from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said this week he was hoping to move the country into Level 3 restrictions but added he "might moderate" what is permitted.

"The lower you can get the case number the greater flexibility there is to open certain sections," a Government source said.

"We want to give flexibility around family gatherings and there is an awareness of the need for people to cross country boundaries to see their family," the source added.

Another senior source said the Government is "acutely aware" that it is a family occasion and said there is a big push to ensure people can spend time together.

Restaurants and pubs that serve food are expected to reopen in the lead up to Christmas but it is unlikely that so called 'wet pubs' will be allowed open.

There are also discussions about easing restrictions on a county basis based on the rate of rate of infection.

However, there is concern this could spark resentment among those living in counties with stricter regulations during Christmas.

Flights

Yesterday, there was bad news for people hoping to fly home to Ireland for Christmas as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar urged them not to book flights.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said: "In terms of people booking flights for Christmas to come home, I advise them not to do that at the moment, I know that's difficult. I know that's a tough ask."

"Christmas is six weeks away. And it's too soon now, I think, for people to be booking flights to come home," he added.

He warned that even with a move to a lower level of restrictions in December, there were still "embers of the virus" in the community, "and as we meet again those embers can be fanned."

Mr Varadkar made a comparison to a 1967 outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in England, when Irish people there were asked not to come home.

He said there is a risk that people arriving here from overseas could undo the good work of people who helped reduce the rate of the virus during the lockdown.

Mr Varadkar also said there was "probably a higher risk" at the moment from people engaged in North-South travel, where a different approach is being taken in Northern Ireland."

At an Nphet briefing, Dr Holohan echoed Mr Varadkar's comments to Irish people living abroad to not book flights home yet "We're concerned about the picture in other countries relative to here.

Many other countries in Europe are still in a deteriorating situation.

"I'm sure some of you will have seen the pictures from across Europe of some of the challenges big cities and hospitals are facing," he said.

Separately, the Tánaiste ruled out a TD's suggestions that the army should be sent to seal the Border.

Crossings from the North "will cause serious problems," warned Independent TD for Louth Peter Fitzpatrick, who is a former Fine Gael member.

"We must do something about it."

From Omeath to Cullaville, there are approximately 30 Border crossings, he said, adding: "As an ex-soldier of the 27th Battalion, I think it is about time we started to use the Army.

"There is a barracks in Dundalk with 450 soldiers. Why not deploy them in Border areas?"

"We have an opportunity to do something. The Government should get the Army out to stop the Southerners and the Northerners crossing up and down the Border."


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