Government ministers are aware they are taking a risk by relaxing Covid-19 restrictions for the Christmas period, but are conscious of the need to maintain public support.
Ministers are conscious of the “need to bring people with us,” political sources have told the Irish Times.
The Government is determined to consider a range of factors, not just the public health warnings about the prospect of increased infections, according to these sources.
It is expected to launch a major publicity campaign urging people to have a “safe Christmas,” following tonight’s expected announcements of a lifting of current Level 5 restrictions.
People are set to be told that “every contact counts” and to limit their social interactions over the Christmas period.
Hotels are likely to be able to open their restaurants for non-residents subject to strict social distancing requirements in a modification of Level 3 restrictions, the Irish Times understands.
It is also expected that golf, tennis, shooting, horseriding and other outdoor sports will be permitted from next week.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan was not present for the political discussion and conclusions reached by the Cabinet sub-committee last night, it is understood.
According to sources, there were presentations at the start of the meeting by Dr Holohan and Professor Philip Nolan from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
HSE chief Paul Reid and head of the Central Statistics Office Pádraig Dalton also spoke, while Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe made a presentation on economic issues.
The Nphet team and the other officials left the meeting to allow the politicians to discuss the issues and reach a decision, it is understood.
The Cabinet is meeting on Friday afternoon to sign off on plans for managing the pandemic throughout the Christmas period.
It is expected to reject advice from Nphet and allow restaurants and gastropubs to reopen in December, along with household visits.
A gulf has emerged between the Government and its public health advisers, who advised Ministers that either rules on household visits can be relaxed over the festive period or the hospitality sector could start to reopen — but both should not take place at once.
There is also disagreement on the course to take within Government, with one TD expressing the belief the country should move to Level 2 when current restrictions are lifted.
The HSE’s executive director has acknowledged there may be a spike in Covid-19 cases after Christmas, but added a lockdown was not inevitable.