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Christmas ‘free-for-all’ could lead to third lockdown, says Minister

Pippa Hackett, a Green Party Cabinet Minister, has warned that a ‘free for all’ at Christmas could necessitate another lockdown.

Pippa Hackett, who has served as Minister of State for Land Use & Biodiversity since March 2020, appeared on RTÉ’s ‘This Week in Politics’ to discuss the imminent lifting of Level 5 restrictions.

Tensions have already begun bubbling up between NPHET civil servants and government officials, the latter of whom question whether Level 5 has done much more than cause increased economic harm.

There have been ructions in particular regarding how pubs and restaurants will be able to operate after 1 December, the planned end to Level 5 restrictions.

Hackett noted that the Government appreciates that people will want to have a “meaningful Christmas” and be able to partake in festivities to mark this time of year.

She said, however, that the rate of COVID-19 in the population has not reduced as much as the Government had been hoping when Level 5 restrictions were instituted in October, begging the question of what measures NPHET will recommend next week.

“There is a deep frustration there among publicans and restaurant owners. They have put in place measures and they are wanting to open but they are cognisant of the difficulty this places on Government … what businesses are looking for is certainty.”

Hackett argued that opening back up before Christmas only to return to lockdown in January is not a situation that any business owner wants.

“There is no point indicating to people we are going to open up for two weeks at Christmas because that is just a free for all,” Hackett said.

“As difficult as it is now to get people to adhere to the regulations, a free-for-all two-week holiday at Christmas, that will [mean] lockdown after Christmas.”

Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Padraig Mac Lochlainn urged that the Government must be “frank” with all sectors of business about the realities of the COVID-19 situation and ensure financial supports are in place to “keep these businesses afloat”

Louth Labour TD Ged Nash, meanwhile, said that it is an “inevitability” that some flexibility will be built into the system over Christmas as people will, “whether we like it or not”, travel across the country to see their families.

“We will of course be appealing to people who spend time with their families to do so safely,” Nash said.

Nash also noted the “unseemly row” erupting between NPHET and officials from the Government and urged that decisions that are taken “be based on evidence”.“We absolutely have to take the [NPHET] public health advice and expert advice very seriously … Government are chipping away at NPHET’s authority.”

Independent TD Denis Naughten called for the five-level system to be “scrapped” and better analyse contact tracing data to inform evidence-based decision making with regard to restrictions.

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