Ireland reopens: inter-county travel resumes as hairdressers and non-essential retail return
Country begins biggest reopening since last summer
A major relaxing on Monday of Covid-19 restrictions after five months of strict lockdown sees the return of non-essential retail by appointment, hairdressers and barbers, an easing of the rules around outdoor meetings and the resumption of religious worship in churches.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged people to be “vigilant about personal behaviour” and to continue to take precautions against the spread of the virus as the country begins its largest reopening since last summer.
Inter-county travel for non-essential reasons is now permitted.
CHANGES FROM TODAY
- Inter-county travel permitted
- Increased capacity on public transport
- Galleries, museums and libraries reopen
- Non-essential retail open by appointment
- Barbers and hairdressers reopen
- Easing of rules around outdoor meetings
- Resumption of religious worship
- Click here for our Covid-19 restrictions Q&A
Mr Martin, who received his own first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Cork on Sunday, predicted a “psychological uplift” from this week with retail starting again.
He also cautioned: “The natural instinct is to get out and meet people... but that does not mean we drop our guard in terms of personal behaviour.”
Non-essential retail opened for click-and-collect and appointment-only shopping on Monday ahead of a full reopening next week.
It comes as the HSE prepares to vaccinate 250,000 to 270,000 people this week, the highest number yet in the rollout.
An estimated 240,000 people were vaccinated last week, including a record 52,000 on Friday.
As reopening commences, Mr Martin rejected suggestions that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is proving a hindrance to the retail sector recruiting staff because people can get more by drawing the State support.
He said he had heard retailers say they were finding it difficult to get staff in advance of reopening, but he disputed such difficulties were due to the PUP proving too attractive for workers.
He said 100,000 people have come off the payment since February, “which kind of gives the lie to that notion that people are going to stay on PUP because it’s better than getting a job,” he said.
Retail Excellence managing director Duncan Graham said: “Now, it is critically important that once we reopen, we stay open.”
He said it was too early to tell if the PUP rate is discouraging people from returning to jobs, but it “could be an issue further down the road” as hospitality reopens later in the summer and both sectors compete to hire from the same pool of potential workers.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys on Sunday night offered no indication of when the Government intends to begin tapering the payments.
She told The Irish Times: “At the end of May, we will set out the future of PUP post-June 30th taking account of the trajectory of the virus, progress on the vaccine rollout, and the continued impact of the pandemic on the economy over the months ahead.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said about 12,000 businesses are expected to reopen their premises or resume normal trading this week, with 100,000 people due to return to work this month. He said this is happening after the longest lockdown since the pandemic began, and “I am determined to do all we can to ensure that it is the last”.
Mr Martin, meanwhile, signalled that foreign travel will be possible later in the summer as he confirmed Ireland will participate in the EU’s planned digital vaccine passport regime once it is finalised.
He said the EU’s timeframe is from June to the end of July in terms of the digital passport being in operation.
He also indicated that he supports the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jab for under-50s.
The J&J vaccine was recommended for use in the over-50s by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) amid links to very rare blood clots in younger age groups.
However, the Government is reviewing HSE proposals for changes in the vaccination programme which would include use of the J&J vaccines for younger people.
Mr Martin told RTÉ Radio that chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is engaging with Niac on the matter but he added: “I think it would ensure the maximum utilisation of all vaccines that we have... so I hope it works out, and it’s something that I would support.”