Coronavirus: The reopening Ireland plan in detail

What will happen and when will it happen?

The current restrictions on social and economic life will be maintained for a further fortnight, and will be eased in stages from May 18th, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced this evening.

“We need two more weeks,” Mr Varadkar said to effectively control the spread of the virus, warning that opening up the lockdown now could result in the country going “back to square one”.

He announced two minor changes to the current restrictions - the 2km limit will be extended to 5km and over 70s will now be told that they can leave their homes but only if they avoid all contact with other people. Otherwise all restrictions will remain in place.

Mr Varadkar said that on May 18th, should progress in containing the virus continue in the intervening two weeks, then the restrictions will be eased in a series of five stages, three weeks apart. “Our plan is to re-open the country in a slow, staged, phased way,” Mr Varadkar said.


On May 18th, some retail outlets such as garden centres and DIY centres will be allowed open, some outdoor sports will be allowed and small groups of family and friends will be permitted to meet in the open. Construction and outdoor work will restart.

In later phases, other businesses will be allowed reopen. Schools and colleges will reopen in September and October at the beginning of the next academic year. Cafes and restaurants will reopen on June 29th and pubs will reopen on August 10th.

However, Mr Varadkar warned that the easing of the restrictions will depend on there being no “second wave” of the virus which could overwhelm health services.

“Unfortunately the risk of a second wave of the virus is ever present,” he said. “So we can only move from one phase to the next if the virus stays under control between each phase. And there is a risk that we’d have to go back a phase if that happens.

“In any scenario, at least until we have a vaccine or effective treatment, there will be a long-term need for physical distancing, good hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, regular cleaning and for people to stay at home and isolate if they are sick.”

Micheál Martin said he agreed with the cautious advice of the public health officials but called for clarity about the leaving certificate.

Mary Lou McDonald said that it was “essential” to have a roadmap for the reopening of Ireland, and said that the testing capacity needed to be improved to allow for the lockdown to be lifted.

In a televised address on Friday, Mr Varadkar said thousands of lives have been saved “because of the sacrifices and choice you have made”.

“When we come through this, we will come together as a nation and grieve for everyone who has died over the course of this emergency,” he said.

But he warned that the phases of reopening the country may have to be reversed back a step, if the rate of the infection increases significantly as the lockdown is eased.

“We need two more weeks of tight restrictions,” Mr Varadkar said, so the virus does not have a chance to make a “comeback”.

The curve has been flattened but “we have not yet won this fight”, he said.

“I know for me the worst part has been the daily text message I receive at around 5 o’clock every evening of the number of deaths, and number of new cases,” the Taoiseach said. “I yearn for the day it stops.”

The Full Plan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that Ireland will begin re-opening from May 18th under a roadmap which contains five phases.

The first phase begins on May 18th

In this early stage, up to four people not of the same household will be able to meet outdoors while maintaining strict social distancing. Funerals will still be a maximum of ten people. Outdoor workers in construction can return including gardeners and those working on allotments. But remote working will remain in place for the vast majority of businesses. Garden centres and hardware stores can reopen as well as opticians, bike repairs and phone repairs.

Electrical outlets may open Tennis courts and golf courses can reopen but social distancing will apply. Outdoor public amenities and tourism sites may open. A maximum of four people can engage in outdoor sporting and fitness activities. Schools and college buildings will be opened to allow teachers to organise remote learning.

The second phase begins on June 8th

In this phase, people will now be permitted to travel up to 20km but will be advised to avoid all unnecessary journeys. Over 70s will be allowed to shop at specific hours. Visits to homes of over 70s will be permitted by no more than a few people for a short period of time and they must wear gloves, face coverings, maintaining strict 2m social distancing.

For everyone else, up to four people may visit another household for a short period of time while maintaining strict social distancing. In terms of funerals, slightly larger numbers of people can be in attendance at funerals but they will still be restricted to immediate family and close friends.

There will be a “phased return” of other workers who can maintain a distance from others of two metres at all times. Businesses that can maintain remote working will be asked to do so. Small retail outlets, with a small number of staff, and open marts could also reopen.

Libraries can open with limited numbers. People can engage in outdoor sporting and fitness activities where there is a "small group team" but this does not include matches.

The third phase begins on June 29th

Travel restrictions will remain at 20km. Cafes and restaurants that can adhere to social distancing guidelines will reopen. Creches will be reopened but only for the children of essential workers. Hospital and prison visits may resume but consideration will have to be given to the availability of PPE in each unit.

Businesses will be asked to continue with remote working where possible but organisations where employees have a low level of daily interaction may return. There will be a phased reopening of non-essential retail outlets on the basis of restriction on the number of staff and customers per square metre so that social distancing can be maintained. This will be limited to retail outlets with street-level entrance and exit i.e. which are not in enclosed shopping centres due to higher risk.

Playgrounds will be reopened where social distancing and hygiene can be maintained. Some “behind closed doors” sporting activities will be permitted. Public transport will remain restricted. The Government will consider implementing travel restrictions on numbers travelling to and in major urban centres.

The fourth phase begins on July 20th

In this phase, people can now travel outside their region. A slightly larger number of people (more than four, but the exact number has not yet been specified) may visit another household for a short period of time while maintaining social distancing. Small social gatherings by family and close friends will be limited to a maximum number of attendees for a limited period of time where social distancing can be maintained. The same will apply to other social gatherings outside of family and friends.

Creches for all other workers will reopen but only for one a day a week to start with. Businesses will be asked to stagger work hours but Government will ask that remote working will continue. Hairdressers and barbers may reopen as well as museums, galleries, religious places of worship. Hotels and hostels will reopen on limited occupancy. Hotel bars will remain closed. Caravan and holiday parks may reopen. Restrictions on the numbers allowed to travel into urban centres will be decreased on public transport.

The last phase begins on August 10th

Pubs, bars, nightclubs and casinos will reopen where social distancing and cleaning can be complied with. Festivals and other cultural gatherings may be held but with restricted numbers. Large weddings will still be restricted due to risk, as will other large gatherings. Normal visiting will resume in hospitals.

A phased return to normal work will start around this time. Shopping centres will reopen as well as theatres and cinemas that can maintain social distancing. Close physical contact sports like rugby, boxing and wrestling will be permitted. Gyms can reopen where there is regular and effective cleaning.

Sports spectatorship which involves mass gatherings will be permitted, but only in accordance with both indoor and outdoor number restrictions. Indoor recreational venues like roller skating, bowling alleys and bingo halls may open where numbers can be limited. High-risk organisations which cannot maintain social distancing will be asked to implement plans for how they can eventually return to full complement. Some time after this period, schools will reopen.

Read Leo Varadkar's speech in full here.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times