The National Parks and Wildlife Service has raised concerns that people out walking in parks and elsewhere outdoors are failing to maintain advised social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Health Service Executive (HSE) guidelines recommend people keep a distance of 2 metres (6.5 feet) between themselves and others, this is the case both indoors and outside.
Wesley Atkinson, a regional manager with the national parks service, said park rangers had observed groups of people closely congregating while out walking in recent days in popular hiking areas such as Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
“The outdoors are important for people’s well being, but social distancing is important. In Glendalough we were not observing that,” Mr Atkinson said.
“People had obviously made plans to meet and were congregating … It is going to be a challenge as the weather gets better,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland programme.
In a statement the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said it had seen an “upsurge in visitors” in recent days.
The country’s national parks and nature reserves remain open to the public but visitor centres have been closed following Government recommendations last week.
The NPWS “would like to encourage continued enjoyment of these wonderful outdoor resources, but would also like to remind the public of the importance of adhering to current HSE advice, particularly in relation to social distancing,” the statement said.
The parks service called on “individuals to avoid congregating closely in large groups, even in these outdoor areas,” and to maintain 2 metres between each person in walking groups.
The HSE recommends people who have been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case but who do not have symptoms to restrict their movements and avoid contact with others as much as possible.
However, the advice states “you can still go outside for walks, runs or cycles on your own. But you should not spend time in close contact with other people.”
The Government last week recommended indoor gatherings of 100 people, and outdoor gatherings of 500 people should not take place, alongside other emergency measures such as the closure of schools, colleges and cultural institutions for two weeks to slow the spread of the virus.
The social distancing requirements have led to the closure of the country’s 7,000 pubs and many restaurants, as they cannot comply with the expert advice, placing tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
Other countries have introduced more severe restrictions on people leaving their homes, in France people are only permitted to leave their home to go to work, or to the shops or chemists for essentials.
Italy has been living under similar restrictions following an effective lockdown of the country at the start of last week, to combat a major coronavirus outbreak.
In recent days the mayor of US city San Francisco also ordered city residents to stay indoors except to purchase essentials, but made an exemption for people “engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running provided that you maintain at least six feet of social distancing.”