Q&A: Leg wax? Shopping? A visit to Kerry? How to enjoy reopening without catching Covid
How to stay safe as the phased reopening of retail, personal care and museums begins
From Monday, May 10th, the largest reopening of commercial and cultural centres in Ireland since last year will begin. This so-called phased reopening of retail, appointment-based personal care services, galleries, museums and libraries will be an emotional return for many workers and customers, and will result in much greater movement of people.
The lifting of the ban on inter-county travel, increased capacity on public transport and larger numbers of people allowed to meet outdoors and to attend funerals, weddings and religious services from May 10th will also mean people who haven’t seen each other in months will meet again.
Public health doctors and infectious disease specialists remind us that Sars-CoV-2 – the virus which causes Covid-19 disease – hasn’t gone away and while the vast majority of older people and those at risk of severe disease have been vaccinated, the potential to catch and spread the virus remains.
Here we look at the best ways to protect yourself from getting Covid-19 while enjoying your new-found freedoms.
1. How can I stay safe when travelling on public transport and going into busy shops?
From Monday, May 10th, buses, trains and trams will be allowed to carry 50 per cent of their maximum capacity. Shops will also reopen for collection of goods, appointment-only shopping (eg for shoes) and to sell stuff outdoors (eg in garden centres). They will reopen fully from May 17th. Duncan Graham from Retail Excellence Ireland says this softer reopening of shops will “take a bit of the heat out of the clamour for shopping and spread the load”. He adds, “I expect from May 17th, stores in demand will look at longer opening hours to manage customer flow more safely.”
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has advised people to avoid crowded places, so if you’re planning a trip to the shops on public transport, give yourself plenty of time and be prepared to queue not only for the bus, but for the shops as well. The Citizens Information Bureau advises people to only use shops which limit over-crowding and have clear social distancing marking on shop floors.
Anyone at high risk of severe Covid who hasn’t yet been vaccinated is well advised to use public transport during off-peak times and avoid busy indoor shopping malls. “It’s about avoiding crowded spaces, closed indoor settings and close contacts. You don’t want to travel on a stuffy bus as the virus hangs in the air. Let a crowded bus go by and catch the next one if you haven’t been vaccinated and are worried about your health,” says Prof Luke O’Neill, immunologist at Trinity College Dublin. Concerns about picking up the virus from handrails, seats or other shared surfaces was overstated at the start of the pandemic, but mask wearing in shops and on public transport is still mandatory and also recommended on busy streets. Always wash your hands immediately when you return home.
2. Is it safe to get my hair cut, go for a leg wax or get my nails done?
There were some outbreaks of Covid-19 associated with hair and beauty services in Ireland in 2020 so infection-control measures (use of hand sanitiser by customers and staff, everyone wearing masks during treatments and ensuring fresh air flows through the building) remain very important in these settings.
From May 10th, beauty services will open again on an appointment-only basis which will allow salons to control the number of people in their premises at any one time. Prof Luke O’Neill says if you are unvaccinated and worried about your health, the less time you spend in the salon, the better. “If you are in close contact with someone, you should both be wearing masks. It would be great if antigen testing was introduced in places like these as it would be another mitigation measure to reduce the spread of the virus.”
3. What precautions should I take when I go back to my local library?
Public libraries are expected to have public health measures in place (hand sanitisers, limits on visitor numbers, one-way systems, social distancing signage and adequate ventilation) when they reopen on May 10th. Depending on the floor space, some libraries will only allow library users to collect books they have ordered in advance while bigger libraries will allow people to browse the shelves. So, if you follow all these guidelines, you will be safe returning to your local library. Toilets are also open during library opening hours.
4. I heard something about cinemas and theatres reopening soon and then I read that they aren’t. What’s the latest news on this?
Minister for Arts Catherine Martin is planning to test infection-control measures in arts venues by allowing a number of shows to go ahead with allocated seating and limited attendance. If and when these trial sites show that it is safe for people to return to cinemas, theatres and music venues with Covid-19 protocols, a date will be set for them to reopen later this summer.
5. A friend of mine died yesterday and I don’t know whether I should attend her funeral or watch it online.
From Monday, May 10th, up to 50 people are allowed to attend funeral services but the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) guidelines for religious services remain in place. These include no hand-shaking or hugging, no queuing to offer your sympathy to the bereaved and no signing a book of condolences. Church wardens are also advised to ensure that people don’t gather immediately outside the door before or after the service. Whether you attend your friend’s funeral is a personal decision but if you do, remember to wear a face mask, keep your distance and stay outside the church if maximum numbers indoors have already been reached when you arrive.
6. I’m keen to return to my Pilates class in my local gym. When will these classes be allowed to start up again?
Indoor group exercise classes with reduced numbers and good ventilation have begun again in parts of the United States but there is no set date for these classes to start again in Ireland as yet. This is because participants in indoor fitness classes – particularly high-intensity exercise sessions – tend to breathe fast and heavily. If someone unknowingly has the virus, the potential to infect everyone else in the class is much greater if the space is crowded and poorly ventilated.
Outdoor training for adults in pods of up to 15 people will be allowed from May 10th (outdoor training for younger people began again in April). Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres are expected to reopen from June 7th for individual training only.
7. I live in Dublin and would like to visit friends in Kerry. Is this allowed now? Can I act as normal when I get there?
From May 10th, the ban on travelling outside of your county will be lifted so yes, you will be able to travel from Dublin to any other part of Ireland to visit friends and family. The Government hasn’t yet clarified whether it is deemed safe to stay over in the homes of other people but from May 10th, fully vaccinated people are allowed to meet indoors with other fully vaccinated people from up to two other households. Unvaccinated people (who aren’t at risk of severe disease) from one household can meet vaccinated people from one or two other households.
“The way I look at this [public health advice] is that a grandparent can visit a daughter or a granddaughter who isn’t vulnerable and stay over because there are no restrictions on indoor visits in this case. But, if you are vulnerable and not vaccinated, you shouldn’t stay over as there is a risk of getting infected,” says Prof Luke O’Neill.
8. I have read that churches will be open for religious services again but what I miss most is getting Communion and singing. Will these elements of Christian worship be permitted now?
Churches will be open for worship from May 10th, but numbers will be limited and people will be asked to maintain social distancing and wear masks. The HPSC guidelines for religious services specify that there should be no choral or congregational singing. Any high-risk individual who hasn’t yet been vaccinated is also advised to wear a surgical mask rather than a face covering during the religious service.
Communion is allowed as long as everyone follows infection-control measures set down by the HPSC.
9. I’m a bit confused about when bars, restaurants and hotels will open again. Can you explain?
Indoor dining and bar services in hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and hostels will be allowed only for people booked in to stay in these establishments from June 2th – if we don’t experience a spike in Covid cases before then. Groups of up to six people can meet in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants from June 7th for a drink and/or food. Eating and drinking inside bars and restaurants is expected to be permitted from July although no date has been set as yet.
10. My nephew and his fiancee have had to cancel their wedding twice already. Can they go ahead with a big bash now?
Unfortunately, no they can’t. Up to 50 guests are allowed to attend religious or civil wedding services from May 10th but only six people can attend an indoor wedding reception. Only 15 people are allowed to attend an outdoor wedding reception from May 10th so it might be wise for your nephew and his fiancee to wait another few months to see if restrictions will ease further.