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World News

Ireland eyes phased exit from COVID-19 curbs in time for Christmas

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past writing on a wall reading 'pick up your mask' during the government's highest level of lockdown restrictions, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Galway, Ireland, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/Files

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland may take a staged approach to lifting COVID-19 restrictions from Dec. 1 in the run-up to Christmas to allow families to celebrate in a “meaningful way”, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Friday.

Non-essential retailers were shut and restaurants and pubs limited to takeaway three weeks ago under Level 5 curbs, with the aim of returning to Level 3 by reopening all shops while allowing outdoor food and drink service only for small numbers of people.

A sharp fall in infection rates prompted Martin to suggest earlier this week that the government may be able to reopen more of the economy than under a strict application of Level 3, and on Friday he raised the additional prospect of a phased exit.

“There may be a staged approach after Dec. 1. If we can get the numbers way down, we’ll obviously have to look at that specific Christmas period and the week leading up to Christmas because I do get that people will want to meet with family,” Martin told national broadcaster RTE.

“Our sense from the research we’re doing is (that) the public get it, it won’t be the same Christmas as last year. Not everybody, if I use the phrase, will be on the lash (getting drunk) for Christmas.”

Martin also said the government would by the end of the month issue advice on international travel for the Christmas period after his deputy, Leo Varadkar, urged people on Thursday not to book flights home yet. [nS8N2HC09X]

Ireland is easing some of the EU’s toughest national travel restrictions, including a cut in quarantine for arrivals from hard-hit “red” regions of Britain and the EU to as little as five days from 14 if they test negatively. [nL1N2HW2NL]

“At this moment, people should wait...Where will (neighbouring) Britain be in three weeks time? All of Europe is red at the moment, we don’t really want lots of people travelling from red zones into Ireland at the moment,” Martin said, adding that many will voluntarily choose not to travel.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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