I thank the Deputy for his question. He has raised the issue of step dancing a number of times.
The guidance set out in the Government's Plan for Living with Covid-19 specifies that no exercise or dance classes are allowed at levels 3, 4 or 5. This precludes any exercise class, including gymnastics, and any type of dance class, including traditional, step, jazz or ballet. Similarly, the guidance precludes any indoor gathering taking place at levels 3, 4 and 5 and, to date, there are no exemptions. To provide clarity to the Deputy, there are no distinctions of the type he referenced in his question across levels 3, 4 and 5. I acknowledge his feedback. I have received a lot of correspondence about this.
Given the current epidemiological situation with a high incidence of the disease, widespread community transmission and a considerable number of hospitalisations and deaths, it has been necessary to put in place very significant restrictions to assess the current trajectory of Covid-19 and break transmission chains.
This means asking people to stay at home and eliminating as much activity and contacts as possible to ensure that opportunities for the virus are minimised while allowing essential activities to continue. Unfortunately, this means minimising discretionary activities, including cultural activities. At present, Ireland is at level 5 in our plan for living with Covid-19. The public health risk at level 5 means we are all asked to stay at home, with very limited exceptions.
The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 give effect to level 5 restrictions currently under the plan. The regulations list essential retail and services that may operate under level 5. This list does not include private or any type of dance classes. Under the regulations, essential education encompasses primary and post-primary schools and higher and further education where remote learning is not possible. Where a service provider considers that it falls into the essential education category, for example, as part of a national curriculum or a specific State-sponsored course of study, it should refer to the Department of Education's guidance on the operation of education services.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Similarly, the Health Act 1947 (Section 3 IA - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 7) Regulations, which applied when the country was under level 3 of the plan for living with Covid-19, did not allow any exercise or dance classes, irrespective of the form, such as Irish, jazz or ballet.
I fully understand the benefits that activities such as dance bring to people's overall health and well-being. The measures in place to suppress the disease's transmission are intended to minimise the risks to public health while striking the right balance in prioritising and protecting some activities over others. Such activities include health and social care services, education and other essential needs, work and economic activity, and other key societal interests as much as possible.