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Irish card spending down 1.6% year-on-year for most of October

DUBLIN, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Irish credit and debit card spending, including ATM withdrawals, fell 1.6% year-on-year in the first 3-1/2 weeks of October, an identical annual drop to September even as COVID-19 restrictions increased, central bank data showed.

The government has been tightening curbs to slow the spread of the virus since mid-September, when indoor restaurant and bar service was banned in Dublin. The same measure was rolled out across the country on Oct. 5 before all non-essential retail was shut and restaurants limited to takeaway service from Oct. 22.

The data to Oct. 25 captured the first four days of Level 5 restrictions, the highest level of constraint, and showed that spending increased in the days leading up to the measures being introduced, similar to the initial, stricter lockdown in March.

That meant that for the week to Oct. 25, card spending was also 1.6% below the daily average for October last year, the central bank said.

Spending collapsed in mid-March when COVID restrictions were introduced and fell 27% year-on-year in April, the first full month of lockdown. A rebound as the economy slowly reopened saw total card spending return broadly to 2019 levels in August.

The central bank does not expect the economic hit from the planned six weeks of current restrictions to be anywhere near as severe as the initial lockdown, saying firms have learned to adapt by offering takeaway, delivery and collection services.

The detailed data for September showed that even though indoor dining was banned in the largest city of Dublin from Sept. 19 and seating limited elsewhere, spending in restaurants nationwide rose 3% year-on-year for the month as a whole. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans)