‘Enjoyable’ summer of reopening within reach from June onwards

Restrictions to be gradually lifted as long as virus keeps moving ‘in the right direction’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has  revised the vaccine priority list to base it on age not occupation.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has revised the vaccine priority list to base it on age not occupation. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Coalition and public health leaders said an “enjoyable” summer was within grasp, with planned reopening of the hospitality sector from June onwards, if the virus continued to move “in the right direction”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the public was being asked to help slow and stop the virus and promised that the Government would pitch in with increased PCR and antigen testing, stricter testing for those arriving after travel, and enhanced contact tracing.

He said that at the end of April the Government would consider the full reopening of construction, and the phased reopening of non-essential retail, personal services and religious services during May.

“If that goes well, then we can consider hospitality in June,” he said. “This is all contingent on things going the right direction in relation to the virus, hospitals, variants and vaccines in the coming weeks and months.”

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Communications, said that rules would be loosened on indoor mixing for vaccinated people, two weeks after their second shot. Under the new rules, two people or two fully vaccinated households can meet indoors two weeks after their second shot.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said Ireland was among the first countries to make these changes and they would be reassessed after two weeks. “We felt it was very important given the disproportionate impact that older people in particular have [felt] due to this pandemic over this past year,” he said.

Haircuts and college

“That isolation, that cocooning, is starting to crack, in a good way,” Mr Ryan said. He also said the Government hoped to deliver a dividend for younger people at the end of April, and outline “when they can get their hair cut, or get back to a class in college where they meet up in person.

“We are on the path or the road to recovery,” he said, warning it would “be a slow one” but that “we can see the light, we can see the way, we will get there collectively.”

While he warned that the virus was still transmitting at dangerous levels among people and the new B117 variant was complicating matters, Dr Glynn said there were “more concrete reasons for hope now than at any time over the past year”.

He said vaccinations by the end of June “will change things fundamentally; we can and should be hopeful and optimistic of an enjoyable summer that’s much better than what we’ve experienced over the past six months. But we’re not there yet.”

Despite a concerted effort to frame the coming weeks in a more positive light, there was blowback for the Government on Tuesday over a plan announced by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to revise the vaccine priority list based on age rather than occupation.

‘Born of necessity’

In a statement on Tuesday night, Mr Donnelly said the change would make the rollout of the vaccine “more efficient at higher volumes of vaccinations” as well as “more transparent and fairer”. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the changes were born of necessity because “[the Government’s] system is so ineffective”.

“I have to tell you I failed to see how special needs assistants, family carers, gardaí, teachers and people working in retail – I don’t know that you can sustain an argument that they don’t face a higher level of risk,” she said.

From April 12th, the 5km travel restriction is to be changed to a countywide limit or up to 20km from a person’s home if crossing a county boundary, while outdoor social meet-ups involving two households will be allowed in public places, but not gardens. Homebuilding and childcare facility construction will recommence, followed by a resumption in intercounty and high-performance training where permitted on April 19th.

Some non-contact sports including golf and tennis can resume on April 26th, while training sessions will be allowed for those under 18 in pods of 15. Zoos, wildlife parks and heritage sites will reopen on the same date.

A further 14 Covid-19 related deaths were reported in the Republic on Tuesday as well as 368 newly confirmed cases. In Northern Ireland, there were a further five confirmed deaths linked to Covid-19 and 151 more infections.