Explainer: What restrictions are being relaxed and when will more be lifted?

High Covid-19 numbers and a slow vaccine rollout is stopping Government doing more

The Government has decided on a slow and limited relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions over the coming two months that is largely focused on an increase in less risky outdoor activities.

What restrictions are going to be eased in April?

The Government is permitting an extension of the 5km restriction to a county-wide or 20km-limit and a gradual easing of restrictions on outdoor activities from April 12th.

Outdoor meetings of two households will be allowed but not in private gardens from that date.


Sporting activities can also return: training by GAA senior county teams and some high-performing athletes will be permitted from April 19th. Non-contact sports including tennis, golf and underage training will be permitted from April 26th.

Outdoor visitor attractions such as zoos and places of heritage will be allowed to open from April 26th. On that date, the numbers permitted at funerals will increase from 10 to 25.

Construction will restart with a partial return of about 14,000 workers to building homes and childcare facilities from April 12th with a possible wider reopening of the industry from early May.

From now, two fully vaccinated people, who are mostly people aged over 70 or healthcare workers, will be allowed to meet indoors unmasked, if it is two weeks since their second doses.

What will happen in May and what could happen in June?

The Government will consider, from May, a phased return of non-essential retail with click and collect and outdoor retail, personal services such as hairdressers returning on a staggered basis, museums, galleries and libraries reopening, and religious services restarting on a phased basis.

At the end of May, the Government will consider reopening hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses.

What about the rest of the summer?

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that with more vaccinated over the summer, there should be a chance for people to “enjoy much greater freedom later in the summer”. He expects 80 per cent of adults to have had their first dose by July with 70 per cent totally vaccinated by the end of that month.

What else is the Government doing?

The vaccine rollout will move to being age-based rather than occupation-based once the over-70s and vulnerable people with underlying health conditions are vaccinated. The Taoiseach said the change would “simplify and accelerate” the vaccine rollout.

Why isn’t the Government doing more?

The risks are still too great, which is why the Government is taking a very slow and cautious approach. The number of people getting infected is still too high and the numbers getting vaccinated is still too low for there to be any more significant moves. One HSE official said the State was at a “tipping point” for six to eight weeks until more people are vaccinated with infections still remaining high.

If more restrictions were lifted, the risk of a fourth wave of infection increases, particularly with the more transmissible and more dangerous B117 virus now the dominant strain in the State.

How many people have been vaccinated?

As of last Saturday, 577,641 had received their first dose of the vaccine and, of those, 224,861 had received their second and were fully inoculated. However, that is just 4.5 per cent of the population, or one in 22 people, so the vast majority are still susceptible to becoming infected.

But aren’t the vaccines working on reducing severe illness and deaths?

They are. The number of people being admitted to hospital and intensive care units with severe disease has fallen sharply and are not increasing yet, even though case numbers are rising. Immunisation has reduced deaths within vulnerable groups so the vaccines are working.

So could restrictions be lifted more quickly as vaccinations work through younger ages?

Possibly, it depends on the risks the Government is willing to take on this.

About 86 per cent of Covid-19 deaths have been among people aged 65 years and over so once older people and those with underlying health conditions at higher risk (who are currently being vaccinated) are fully immunised, there could be greater scope to lift restrictions.

There are still risks for younger people, however. Some 46 per cent of hospitalisations from Covid-19 have been people aged under 65. One in five (20 per cent) have been under 45 years, and young people can suffer long-term symptoms after being infected from what is known as “Long Covid”.

"What you have to decide is whether it is acceptable to allow younger people to get infected at the expense of just opening everything up and allowing things to return to normal," said Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College Dublin.

As seen in Israel where mass immunisation is more advanced, more vaccinated people means a lower level of Covid-19 transmission, less risk of serious illness or death and greater freedoms.

If hospitals can cope with Covid-19 cases, could more restrictions be lifted?

Again, possibly. The health system might be able to cope with the existing level of Covid positivity and the situation could ease further if case numbers fall as more vaccines are given.

“It is very hard not to justify reopening and going back to previous ways of doing things when the risks to the health service are negligible,” said immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill. “The pressure will be on the Government to allow this.”