Dublin thronged with face-masked Christmas shoppers on Tuesday as Ireland ended a second partial coronavirus lockdown, allowing non-essential retail to resume after six weeks of tough restrictions.
Dozens queued for the mid-morning reopening of upmarket department store Brown Thomas, festooned with seasonal decorations in the epicentre of the capital’s shopping district.
Amidst tables of designer handbags one customer confided in staff that she had taken the morning off work to shop.
“It’s been very difficult,” said Brown Thomas stores director Mark Limby of the six week hiatus.
“We have been trading online, that’s been exceptionally good for us. It doesn’t make up for the stores not being open,” he told AFP.
As Ireland loosened virus curbs in place since October 22, museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and places of worship also reopened.
Close-contact services such as hairdressers and tattoo parlours were also allowed to resume trade.
Ryan Kelly, co-owner of tattoo parlour Heartbreak Social Club, opened a second shop in October as Ireland was on the cusp of returning to a partial lockdown.
It was allowed to trade for one day before the shutters came down for a month and a half.
“We knew it would be a challenge but opening today we’re busy,” said Kelly.
“There’s not really much worse situations we could face in the future.”
The neighbouring George’s Street Arcade — home to 40 independent retailers — closed for the first time since 1892 in March, when Ireland entered its first lockdown.
On Tuesday shopkeepers returned to unlock premises for the second time.
Owner Gwen Layden told AFP she did not charge rent during the closures.
“The mood is very different,” she said, gesturing to other shops which have not reopened.
“There are shutters all around me here … something happened that they’re not reopening.”
“That’s a lifetime of somebody having invested in their business and that might be over for them.”
On Friday, pubs and restaurants serving food will also open across Ireland, although drinking-only establishments will remain closed.
Ahead of Christmas, the government is urging people to wear masks outdoors on “busy streets”, starting on Tuesday.
In central Dublin noticeably more pedestrians were sporting facemasks, while inside shops they are mandatory.
Infection rates are nevertheless bound to rise in the run-up to the festive season, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE on Monday.
“The challenge is to keep that increase as low as possible,” he said.
According to the latest official figures, there have been 2,053 deaths from coronavirus in Ireland, a nation of five million.
The daily death toll peaked at 77 in mid-April and in recent weeks has frequently remained in