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Retailers fear ‘massive blow’ to sector under impending ‘Level 4-plus’ restrictions

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Non-essential retail is likely to be closed again in light of the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, a move which a representatives have said would be a “massive blow” to the sector.

Senior sources said on Sunday night that the Government will agree to “Level 4-plus” restrictions for the entire country for a period of three to four weeks at a specially-convened Cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon.

Under Level 4-plus, it is understood that only essential retail and primarily outdoor businesses are permitted to open, visitors to homes and gardens will be banned and no organised indoor gatherings will be permitted.

It is also understood that schools are likely to remain open, there will be no matches, except for elite sport, and pubs and restaurants are permitted only to serve take-away or a maximum of 15 outdoor diners.

Members of the public will also be requested to stay within county except for work/education/other essential purposes.

For more, see: Life under Level 4

Minister of State Colm Brophy said it was important to get any decision on new restrictions right, adding that it was important to get balance right between public health and commercial activity.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Mr Brophy said Level 3 wasn’t delivering a sufficient reduction in numbers.

He said he thinks the GAA championship should go ahead if it can be done safely as people need something positive in their lives.

He added, that as a former business owner , he believes restrictions are necessary, “fundamentally” people’s health and lives are the most important thing, he said.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne told RTÉ Radio One that the Government’s objective is to do everything possible to protect lives and livelihoods.

However, Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the Irish retail sector, said many businesses are relying on the Christmas trading period to survive. It called on the Government to “set out” the risk assessment which informed the decision.

Retail Excellence, the largest retail body in Ireland, said closure would have a “devastating impact” on the sector, adding that “we cannot shut the industry at this time of year”.

“A further 60,000 jobs are at risk in addition to the 30,000 that have already been lost in the industry,” the body said.

‘Huge blow’

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said an increase in restrictions would be a “huge blow” for the sector over the next four weeks. “Focus now must be on getting open for Christmas,” he said on Twitter.

The Independent Gym Owners Ireland started a petition six days ago calling on policymakers to move gyms to essential services for “the mental and physical wellbeing” of Irish people.

Under Level 4, gyms would be closed. However the petition, which had almost 27,000 signatories on Monday morning, said closing gyms would “affect many people mentally and physically and cause long-lasting effects for people, families and their loved ones”.

The Opposition has called for additional supports to be made available for those affected by any further public health measures.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said offering State supports during increased restrictions is a very direct way to build social cohesion and “rekindle the feeling that we are all in this together”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said that the people who are going to really struggle would like to see the pandemic unemployment payment and wage subsidies restored fully.

Meanwhile, any move to keep schools open is likely to result in some concern from teaching unions, due to the risk of Covid-19 to its members.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said it is “growing increasingly concerned” that public health precautions for teachers are “inadequate”.

“The desire of teachers to keep schools open must be met with a firm commitment to keep schools safe,” it said.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland said at the weekend that teachers are feeling “fear and trepidation” about the prospect of schools remaining open while Level 5 restrictions are in place.

Last week, the National Public Health Emergency Team called for the State to move to the highest point on the alert plan, Level 5, for a period of six weeks, in light of what it describes as an alarming upward trajectory of infection.

It is expected that Government will reject some of this advice and instead opt for Level 4-plus, for up to four weeks, after which the situation would be reassessed.

The Cabinet sub-committee is due to meet at noon on Monday to discuss the recommendations, followed by a full Cabinet meeting in mid-afternoon. A formal announcement of new restrictions is expected to be made later this evening.

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