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When will the economy reopen if our plan is like the UK’s approach?

Smart Money: UK’s plan providers pointers on how reopening may be phased in Ireland

Let’s be honest – nobody knows how anybody’s Covid-19 reopening plan will work. The virus has meant plans have been torn up many times. Now we have more infectious variants and more uncertainty.

But a few countries are ahead of the Republic on the vaccination road – and thus will provide vital evidence which will influence what will happen here.T he UK’s vaccination strategy is different to ours, concentrating on getting most people vaccinated once. But the timing of their reopening plan does offer some vital pointers on how vaccinations and reopening may run together in the months ahead.

1. The numbers

How far ahead is the UK? Way ahead for now. In terms of total vaccines given to the adult population, the UK was where we are now about seven weeks ago. Now than half the UK population have received one dose. Here, one in eight adults have received at least one dose. In terms of second vaccinations, the UK numbers are still small – though will rise rapidly in coming weeks.

Another way of judging the “gap” is to look at where the UK is now in terms of sectors of the population. In the UK, 50- to 54-year-olds are being summoned for their first jab. Their priority list is slightly different to ours, though they are generally similar. While there is no published target for different groups here, if the Government’s current targets are to be met, then the same age group here would probably be called for their firsts vaccination some time in early May – in about six or seven weeks’ time.


Moving in to the summer, if delivery levels do ramp up here along the lines of what has been promised – and these can be delivered to the population – some “catch-up” with the UK should happen.

The UK has promised to offer everybody one vaccination by the end of July. By then the 32 million more vulnerable and over-50s who will have received one dose by April will have got their second jab.

The Republic’s target is to have 82 per cent with one shot by the end of June and 60 per cent with two.

It is impossible to say where both programmes will be by autumn – the UK should finish first but the gap may have shrunk by then. But in terms of immediate reopening prospects, they are for now clearly ahead of the Republic.

2. The reopening

In terms of restrictions being lifted on economic and social activity, the UK has set out four phases – while underlining that these are reliant on virus data. These will vary a bit in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Data from Israel does confirm that the hoped-for trend is taking place there – first deaths decline, then hospitalisations and case numbers. Schools are already fully reopening the UK and construction activity has continued, So what are the UK plans and what might that mean for us?

The first phase– from next Monday – is a limited move to allow more outdoor gatherings , the reopening of outdoor sports such as golf and tennis and the end of the “stay at home” rule, though replaced by urging people to stay local. As the State is behind the UK, this illustrates the limited nature of the options faced by the Government here as it decides what to do after Easter – if we follow the UK template. Internationally construction has continued, and this is on the table here, but for now the UK will keep most other consumer-facing parts of the economy closed.

The second phase of the UK reopening – due to take place “no earlier than April 12th” – will have more economic clout. All shops and personal services such as hairdressing are due to reopen. Restaurants and pubs will be allowed to serve food and drink, but only to customers seated outside – and there is debate in the UK over whether evidence of vaccination might also be require for entry. Gyms and pools will reopen for individual training. So will self-catering accommodation, though with tight rules.

For Ireland, if we follow a similar template, note first the lengthy gap between step one and two. Translated to match our vaccine rollout, it would mean it would be mid to late May before non-essential shops were allowed to reopen here – and restaurants with outdoor dining. Would we also consider self-catering accommodation at this stage?

By mid-May most of the vulnerable populations here will have been vaccinated twice and the bonus of falling deaths should be increasingly clear. However a sharp fall in hospitalisations and a drop in case numbers may be delayed until more of the younger age-groups – now picking up most new infections – are vaccinated.

The third phase of the UK reopening is due on May 17th. when restrictions on seeing friends and family are due to be significantly lifted and outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people will be allowed.Restaurants and pubs can reopen for indoor service, though people will have to order from their seat. Indoor venues such as cinemas can reopen, as can hotels, hostels and B&Bs. Some limited large crowds may be allowed at football matches or even indoor events. It is made clear that studies in some of these areas may lead to changes.

For the Republic, we hope our vaccination programme can ramp up significantly in April and May – a massive acceleration would be needed to meet the end June target of 82 per cent with one jab. If we assume we remain five or six weeks behind the UK at this stage, a similar schedule would see hotels, and restaurants for indoor dining reopening here in late June. This would allow hotels to take advantage of the peak holiday months.

The final UK stage is due for end June, when they hope to reopen nightclubs and ease restrictions on large gatherings. However much of this will be subject to studies taking place in the meantime, including pilot events, and of course the data. This final deadline must be taken as tentative at this stage and the official documentation is a good deal less bullish than Boris Johnson’s earlier statements that all restrictions would be gone by this stage.

3. What this teaches us for Ireland

Timelines are tight if Ireland is to get significant parts of its economy open for the summer. If we follow the UK template, then we can see in particular that they are waiting for significant numbers of be vaccinated before opening hotels for the summer. If Ireland's vaccine programme falls further behind, then the summer season will be shrunk further for this sector.

Overseas travel remains uncertain. Some Germans may be back in Mallorca, but the UK is pulling back on indications that foreign holidays might be possible. Whether to use vaccine passports or certificates will come into wider use use is under active discussion – many cruise companies are already insisting on proof of vaccination for example.

Working from home will continue. It is notable that the UK is maintaining the advice to people to work from home if possible up to phase 4, and has said that it will study the issue in the meantime. The same is likely here. This is bad news for city centres and their businesses, but reflects fears of new variants spreading more easily in offices.

Uncertainty will continue over events and gatherings. The UK is hoping some may be possible, but has said further study will take place. Perhaps autumn is a more realistic goal for these.

The future of wet pubs, as they now operate, remains in question. The UK plans to fully reopen pubs on May 17th, with seated service. * Whether this happens will be a vital pointer for Ireland.

Vaccine green cards: Denmark and Israel have both adopted this approach to allow some hospitality sectors to reopen to those who have been vaccinated. It is under discussion in the UK, where Johnson says it raises tricky issues. For example, younger staff will not have the opportunity for vaccination until later, and what will be seen as " fair" as vaccines roll out? There will be rows here about this.

It is notable that the UK official guidance underlines the need to continue with social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing as the vaccines programme rolls out. Many experts warn that much of this will remain necessary even after vaccinations are completed, certainly for a time. In turn this may have implications for sectors such as events and hospitality.

Ireland will of course make its own calls on timing of reopening. However no details of longer term thinking on this have been made available to date.

*This setence was amended to clarify UK pub reopening date