A garda on duty at an Operation Fanacht checkpoint at Coonagh West - PICTURE: Brendan Gleeson
LIMERICK people are being implored to “dig deep” over the next three weeks to ensure they can have a Christmas to look forward to.
Level 3 restrictions, under the Government’s Living with Covid plan, will remain in place across the country until after the October Bank Holiday weekend when they will be reviewed.
There are fears that up to 10,000 jobs, mainly in the hospitality and tourism sectors, could be lost in Limerick if the restrictions are extended further into November.
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported in Limerick since February has now passed 1,000 and there are several open clusters and outbreaks across the city and county.
Under Level 3, all indoor events are banned and indoor dining in pubs and restaurants is not permitted.
Joe Lee of Lee’s Bar in Newcastle West says it’s dissapointing. “It's hard to know what to think about it. We've been here before for six months and it still didn't solve the problem. The house parties, there is a big issue there. Pubs are closed in Dublin at the moment, and the numbers have still risen. If you're sitting inside a pub, it's a restricted environment, it's controlled. I understand they had to do something, but I don't understand closing down pubs and restaurants which are controlled. I'm surprised they've not done something with off-licences,” he said.
Under Level 3, people are not allowed to travel outside of Limerick except for essential reasons and gardai have confirmed they will be conducting dozens of highly-visible checkpoints a day as part of Operation Fanacht which has now re-commenced.
Entertainment venues have closed their doors again as have the Limerick Museum and Limerick City Gallery of Art.
Public libraries across Limerick will also remain closed although a call & collect service will be available at most branches.
“I’m appealing again to the people of Limerick to continue their excellent fight against the virus. Limerick people have made huge sacrifices during the last number of months and I am appealing to them to make one more effort to help reduce the number of cases,” he said.
Minister of State Niall Collins has also urged everyone to “pull together for the next three weeks to help keep us on track and get the country back on track” while Limerick Chamber chief executive Dee Ryan said having the big milestone of Christmas to look forward to is crucial.
“We must dig deep. We've an opportunity now to have the best possible Christmas in a pandemic. We've an opportunity, each of us, to redouble our efforts to be as observant of measures as possible. To be as mindful of each other as possible, and give our loved ones perhaps our older-in-age, and potentially vulnerable, something to look forward to. In that we could have a lower level of the virus in society by the end of the year. Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to celebrate Christmas together," she said. “We've an opportunity in our own lives to be as conscious as possible. Do you really need to meet a person? Is it an essential meeting? If you do, do it outdoors and step back. Wear a mask," she added.
The Irish Hotels Federation has warned 8,500 tourism jobs in Limerick alone are at risk due to the introduction of Level 3 restrictions.
“It's been cruellest on the hospitality sector and those who make their livelihoods on social interaction. There is going to need to be a huge amount of continued support around the hospitality businesses. I don't think we are doing what we should be doing for them at this point. I think we should do more. Into the next 12 to 18 months as we continue to navigate our way through this, we need to be looking at a strong recovery plan for these businesses which will allow them to be assisted in the recovery once we get into a post-Covid environment," said Ms Ryan.
According to figures from the Limerick Chamber's economist, Dr Catriona Cahill, approximately 14,700 people are employed region-wide in accommodation and food services, with 27,000 people in the Mid-West reliant on wholesale and retail for an income.
Ms Cahill says around 13,000 people are employed in the construction industry across the mid west - a sector which will be impacted if Level 4 or Level 5 restrictions are introduced.
Local businesswoman Helen O'Donnell has urged those who can to support local businesses where possible.
"It's very difficult to see a way out of this for small businesses. I would urge people to support your local business, support your butcher, your local shop, your local cafe and restaurant. Try and support all family businesses dependent on keeping people employed. These are the backbone of our economy and create an atmosphere and vibrancy across all our towns and cities."