April 5th may see construction resume on a phased basis and extension of 5km travel limit
If Covid-19 cases remain high travel restrictions could be expanded only to 10km or perhaps 8km
A construction site in Dublin’s city centre. Under plans being examined by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, home-building could be considered from April 5th, but work on commercial premises such as offices would still not be allowed. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Construction will be allowed to resume on a phased basis from April 5th, beginning with home-building, under plans being considered by Ministers.
It comes amid a major lobbying push by the main representative group for builders, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), which on Friday wrote to TDs warning them that “Government is being blamed” for the ongoing closure of the sector.
Elsewhere, several Ministers said if Covid-19 case numbers are still high next month, it could mean the current 5km travel restriction would be expanded, but only to 10 or perhaps 8km. Current plans envisage easing the limit to allow for travel within county boundaries.
The CIF, in its message to TDs warning of “political implications” of the closure, argued that the housing crisis would be extended “for at least three years” and claimed HSE data showed it is “safe to open fully”.
Only social housing projects nearing completion are permitted at present.
Under plans being examined by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, home-building could be considered from April 5th, but work on commercial premises such as offices would still not be allowed.
The Department of Housing estimates that phased reopening would mean an additional 14,000 workers returning to sites on top of the estimated 30,000-35,000 currently working. Work on one-off homes and estates could resume.
It is unclear how home extensions would be impacted, but it is likely that, under the proposals, larger commercial housing projects such as apartment schemes could carry on.
“There are already 35,000 people working in construction right now on essential projects,” said one source. “There is strong public health data from the sector and it has been reassuring... If you add another 15,000 spread across the State doing outdoor work, it won’t constitute a big additional risk.
“It’s outdoor work and we need to build as many homes as we can.”
The proposals are understood to enjoy support from some Cabinet colleagues, who are increasingly anxious about the long-term impact of keeping the sector closed. Senior Government figures said there would be a resumption of construction after April 5th but a full return might not be possible if the situation surrounding the B117 variant remains problematic.
While there was strong consensus from all those contacted that non-contact outdoor training and activities for under-18s will be allowed after April 5th, one Minister said there was more caution about households being allowed to mix outdoors.
Daily hospital admissions have mostly been between 15 and 25 in recent days, but were up to 43 on Friday. There were 507 new cases reported on Friday, and 10 deaths.
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson told the European Commission it would deliver 55 million doses of its single-shot vaccine in the second quarter. Based on reported anticipated monthly volumes, Ireland can expect in the region of 33,000 doses in April, 143,000 in May and 429,000 in June.
The National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) removed the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 24 hours after the European Medicines Agency confirmed the benefits of the shot outweighed risks of clotting following an evidence review.
Several political sources expressed frustration with the pace of decision-making, complaining about the process whereby letters have to be exchanged between Niac, the chief medical officer and the Minister for Health before decisions on vaccines can be taken.
The HSE has been asked to administer doses this weekend, with small numbers expected on Saturday and Sunday, and an increase into next week. There are about 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the State.
The vaccine can be used by all aged 18 and over, Niac recommended, and healthcare professionals should be informed that very rare, complicated clotting events have been reported in a small number of people who have recently received it.