Ireland focuses on Christmas as it enters new lockdown

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A man walks past a closed bar in Dublin, Ireland, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the government has imposed a tough new lockdown, shutting down non-essential shops, limiting restaurants to takeout service and ordering people to stay within five kilometers (three miles) of their homes for the next six weeks. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

DUBLIN – Ireland is already focused on Christmas. It's a major national priority.

Unless the country can get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, there won’t be much Christmas cheer this year in Galway, Cork or Dublin.

With infections on the rise, the government has imposed a tough new lockdown that begins at midnight Wednesday, shutting down non-essential shops, limiting restaurants to takeout service and ordering people to stay within five kilometers (three miles) of their homes for the next six weeks.

The restrictions are among the toughest in Europe, and Prime Minister Micheal Martin said he imposed them in part to ensure Ireland can celebrate Christmas “in a meaningful way.”

That message has won the support of many business owners, even in the hard-hit hospitality industry which was still recovering from an earlier lockdown that slashed revenue and triggered layoffs in the spring.

Paul Cadden, owner of the Saba Restaurant Group, will have to lay off 20 people, but will do takeaway, hampers, anything necessary, to get by until lockdown ends. He hopes the new restrictions will bring the virus under control in time for the all-important holiday season.

“Nobody wants to be closed, but for the greater good, you know,” Cadden told The Associated Press. “It’s all to play for for Christmas. And if everybody takes it seriously and, you know, we all lock down and do what we’re told, hopefully we can get a run into the December period.”

Ireland has had little success in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks, even as it has slowly ratcheted up restrictions on social and business interactions. The infection rate stood at 279 cases per 100,000 people in the 14 days through Tuesday, compared with 96 per 100,000 in the period through Sept. 30.