Covid-19: HSE advises people to wear face masks as restrictions ease
‘Vaccine bonus’ will allow three households to mix indoors from Monday
Mary Plunkett, education officer, at a Wharfedale printing press in the National Print Museum in Beggars Bush, Dublin: Museum staff are preparing to reopen its doors on Monday. Photograph: Donall Farmer
Families have been advised to maintain social distancing and to wear masks when meeting after Covid-19 restrictions are eased next week.
The so-called “vaccine bonus” will see fully vaccinated people from up to three households permitted to mix indoors from Monday.
The same will also apply to those who received a first AstraZeneca shot more than four weeks ago and to people who have had a PCR test confirmed infection in the past six months.
These groups can also meet indoors with unvaccinated people from another household, provided they are not at risk of severe illness.
The measures aim to benefit older people and those with health conditions who have had to spend lengthy periods cocooning since the pandemic began.
While home visits among vaccinated people do not technically require masks or social distancing, health officials are stressing the need to continue to follow advice on hygiene and to act appropriately in the interest of safety.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One on Friday, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said it was appropriate for grandparents to have physical contact with grandchildren “provided you keep a small number of people in your social bubble; if that’s going to include grandchildren, well and good”.
Underscoring the impact of vaccines, he said, recipients “have a much, much greater reduction, or reduced chance of becoming sick or hospitalised” with Covid-19 as a result of their jabs.
He said the risk of infection and illness fell “perhaps 90 per cent or more after two doses and certainly 80 per cent or more in some cases after the first dose”.
However, Dr Henry stressed his preference for mask wearing where possible and for people to limit their social contacts.
A series of other restrictions are being eased from Monday, allowing people to meet in groups outdoors, travel outside their county and the reopening of some economic activity.
A maximum of three households or six people from any number of households can come together outside, including in private gardens, and the limit of six will not include children aged 12 or younger.
Organised outdoor gatherings with a maximum of 15 people and outdoor training for adults in pods of up to the same number will also be allowed.
Religious services can resume, although ceremonies such as Communions and Confirmations are not being permitted to go ahead for now, and caps on funeral attendances, a major bone of contention in recent months, will increase to 50. However, “related events” before or after are to remain on hold.
Fifty guests are allowed at wedding services but receptions and celebrations remain restricted to six indoors and 15 outdoors.
Retail will undergo a phased reopening from Monday with click-and-collect services and in-store appointments permitted ahead of shops opening more normally from May 17th.
Personal services such as hairdressers and salons can reopen on an appointment-only basis. Galleries, museums and cultural attractions too will reopen to the public as will lending services in libraries. Public transport capacity will be increased to 50 per cent.
Case study: ‘It could be a slow staggered return or we could see a flurry’
At the National Print Museum in Dublin’s Beggar’s Bush, staff have been busily preparing to reopen their doors to visitors. But, like the industry generally, they do not know what to expect.
“It could go one of two ways,” said chief executive Carla Marrinan. “It could be a slow staggered return or we could see a flurry. You never know.”
Despite the prevailing uncertainty, Ms Marrinan is focused on what they will offer next week – two new exhibitions, including one on pandemic-produced artworks – and reassurance that museums are safe to visit.
Things have been so negative in the cultural arena, positivity is crucial. The museum not only saw a collapse in visitors, but also in corporate revenue and income from the venue being hired.
Propped up by some State funding, it has survived and its new approach is toward self-guided tours in a well-ventilated, spacious building that still has culture at its centre.
“The big concern now is that we won’t see a big return,” Ms Marrinan said, noting that last summer people left the capital while tourism dried up. “A lot of them were sick of their 5km and were getting out of Dublin and because of Covid people were a bit too nervous to come back.”
The museum managed to retain all staff and they have been working with an eye on reopening, but their uncertainty about the week ahead is common in an era where people have been drilled on the importance of staying outside.
Gina O’Kelly, executive director of the Irish Museums Association (IMA), which represents about 80 institutions on the island, said many would not reopen next week, preferring to await the return of “audience confidence”.
“[The worry] is a huge thing. Just because they are open next week doesn’t mean the audience will flood back in,” she said. “I think everybody is going to have to work to bring their customers back in and museums are no different.”
The problem is particularly acute for independent outfits lacking the kind of central State funding that fuels the national cultural institutions. Those largely dependent on entrance fees, cafes and gift shops are under considerably more pressure to turn the cash flow back on.
However, Ms O’Kelly said those accustomed to operating in a historically under-funded industry may prove best placed to survive.