People are to be allowed to travel anywhere within their county from Monday next as the Government moves to implement a dramatic escalation of the roadmap to reopen Ireland.
The Cabinet met on Friday to give the green light to moving to phase two of easing coronavirus restrictions but also considered accelerating entire phases of the existing plan.
An increase in the travel limit from 5km to 20km was due to come into effect on Monday but now under revised restrictions people will also be allowed to travel anywhere within their own county, even if that is more than 20km from their home.
Hotels and B&Bs are also set to re-open at the end of the month under the acceleration discussed by Cabinet and the reduction of the two-metre social distancing rule these businesses is being considered.
The Government is also considering the possibility that some pubs will open earlier than planned and the total lifting of travel restrictions earlier than planned is also being discussed.
Well-placed sources have said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has asked if it should examine if entire phases can be brought forward or merged. It is understood, however, that significant work would have to be done before this could be deemed to be possible.
It is also understood that shopping centres will be able to re-open on June 15th, provided people do not congregate in areas such as foodhalls. The number of people allowed to visit another person’s home from next Monday will increase to six, instead of the initially planned four.
The numbers allowed gather outside will also rise to six and sports teams may be able to resume training - although it is understood contact will not be allowed.
Summer camps will also be permitted in similar circumstances, while cocooners will also be told they can do most of what everyone else is permitted to do but will be given extra guidance.
Ministers were considering the easing restrictions at their meeting on Friday which began at 10am. The Cabinet, in recommending that people be allowed travel within their counties and allowing shopping centres to re-open, is understood to have gone beyond the advice of Nphet.
On Friday, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys confirmed the message would be changing from stay at home to stay local.
“It will be stay local and I would also ask people to shop local and stay safe,” she told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
Under phase two, which starts on Monday, the travel limit was due to increase from 5km to 20km and groups of up to four people - changed to six on Friday - can visit other homes, as long as they observe social distancing. It was also planned that small numbers of people should be allowed visit the homes of those over 70, or medically vulnerable, wearing gloves and face coverings.
Nphet has also signed off on additional restrictions being lifted in the second phase of lockdown relaxations.
The opening of larger retail stores is to be brought forward and will see some bigger shops open from Monday, though Penneys has said it will not be in a position to do that.
Other measures singed off by Nphet include further measures to help children with special needs and a return to some educational and summer camp activities along with the reopening of playgrounds - subject to supervision and cleaning.
It also signed off on changes to allow visitors into nursing homes in certain circumstances but with strict guidelines on who will be permitted while ensuring visitors observe appropriate hand hygiene and maintain physical distancing from residents. Most nursing homes have restricted visitors since March apart from exceptional circumstances.
Monday will also see funerals with up to 25 people allowed.
A number of other measures are also set to be accelerated including the lifting of the travel limit altogether. The 20km limit was initially intended to apply until the end of phase 3 on July 20th, when people would be allowed travel around the country, but it is now expected to be lifted on June 29th, at the end of phase 2.
Hotels, B&Bs and other tourism - also initially planned to open on July 20th - are now to be allowed to open at the same time. June 29th will also see the reopening of museums and galleries and the return of religious services.
Meanwhile, hundreds of pubs are also expected to reopen weeks earlier than anticipated at the end of the month as they have restaurant licences.
Sources have said the Government will give the green light for the move in the coming days following meetings with industry figures. Chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association Donall O'Keeffe said while his group was awaiting final clarification, hundreds of pubs are in "full-scale active planning" for reopening.
Under the Government’s roadmap for reversing Covid-19 restrictions, pubs were not due to reopen until phase 5 which starts on August 10th. A senior source confirmed that those with restaurant licences will be permitted to open their doors on June 29th.
Mr Harris cautioned that moving from one phase to the next was “not inevitable and not guaranteed”. And he said there were no current plans to change the social distancing guidelines from two metres to one.
It comes as a further five deaths of people diagnosed with Covid-19 were reported by Nphet on Thursday. This brings to 1,664 the total number of deaths in the Republic.
Nphet also reported another 38 new cases of the disease, bringing the total number of cases to 25,142.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned that house parties are being organised "with abandon, as though we weren't in the midst of a pandemic".
There were good public health reasons for “these things” not to happen at present, he said, adding indoor activities would be permitted in later phases of the Government’s roadmap.
Meanwhile, the scheme which sees the State subsidise the wages of about half a million workers is expected to be extended until the end of the summer by the Government.
The special Covid-19 unemployment payment will be extended for the same period, although it will be split into two bands.
Those earning less than €200 will be on the first band and will receive €203 a week, in line with unemployment benefit, and those earning above €200 will still receive the current €350 payment.
The reduced payment for part time workers will take effect from June 29th.