Cabinet is set to approve a plan to significantly ease Covid-19 restrictions over the next few weeks, but a senior minister has warned that it will need to be revised if the number of infections increases with the resumption of economic and social activity.
Members of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 last night recommended a faster than expected lifting of curbs, which from May 10 would see the ban on inter-country travel lifted, with personal services such as hairdressers reopening by appointment and larger groups allowed to meet. outside.
Religious services would also resume from that date, but with presence constraints, as would the formation of sports teams.
As part of this plan, which is based on the expectation that vaccine deployment will be dramatically accelerated and infections will not increase, retail outlets would be able to offer click-through and drop-off services. from the same date before a broader business recovery on May 17th.
Outdoor hospitality, including restaurants and pubs, is expected to resume on June 7 while hotels reopen on June 2. Gyms and swimming pools would also reopen from June 7.
Well-placed sources said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had informed visitors to another household could be allowed from June 7. The advisory makes no reference to the immunization status of those involved in these visits, raising the prospect of a mix of unvaccinated households in early June.
However, it is expected that a ‘vaccine bonus’ will go into effect much earlier, possibly from May 10, allowing visits to households vaccinated by unvaccinated people, and looser restrictions on mixing between households. vaccinated who can be fully or partially vaccinated.
It is further understood that the size limits for outdoor gatherings will not count children under 12 years of age. outdoor family gatherings. Outdoor gatherings may also be permitted of more than six people, if it does not exceed three mixed households.
Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said Nphet had indicated that the proposed changes were considered to have a “low to moderate” level of risk, but he warned that “if the numbers go up we will change the plan”.
He said he hoped the changes, which were due to be approved by Cabinet this afternoon, represented “the light at the end of the tunnel” after 14 difficult months, but stressed that the public should still be aware of the risks posed. by disease.
“We’re not out of the woods, but part of it,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
Mr Coveney later told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the government wanted to make sure that this time “we don’t have to go back (to restrictions).”
“I think Nphet understood it here, the government’s decision will be taken on the back of thoughtful and clear public health advice,” he said, adding that he would be surprised if the Cabinet changed the one of the proposed changes.
“We have to give people as much certainty as possible … We have to keep people with us, they are tired, frustrated and worried about their business.”
The faster timetable for easing restrictions has been set after weeks of exchanges between health officials and the government and full details will likely be exposed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Party leader. Green Eamon Ryan after Cabinet meeting.
Medium term plan
Government sources also expect the Taoiseach to present a medium-term plan addressing strategic issues such as aviation, booster vaccines, the longer-term plan for economic support and return to learning. in person for colleges and universities at the start of the next university cycle. year.
Cultural institutions such as museums, galleries and libraries are expected to reopen on May 10 as part of the plan, but holding events in such venues is not expected to be allowed at this point.
Up to 50 people would be allowed to attend wedding ceremonies starting next month, but only six would be allowed at indoor receptions, rising to 25 in June according to the proposals.
Public transport capacity will increase to 50 percent on May 10, from the current limit of a quarter, and Irish Rail and Dublin Bus plan to return to full timetables next Monday.
It is understood that public health officials believe that further easing of restrictions from July would depend on the rollout and adoption of the vaccine, as well as new evidence regarding new variants of Covid. The exact dates were still being worked out last night, but it is believed that a similar approach of phasing out restrictions will be repeated again at this point.
Foreign travel is unlikely to resume to any large extent before the end of the summer, but Mr Coveney will seek to ensure passport production is seen as an essential service, given that there is a backlog of approximately 89,000 requests.