More outdoor activities may be possible in May, says Harris

Country in a better place on Covid-19 than in many, many months, says Minister

The country is “on the cusp” of getting ahead of Covid-19 and the Government could look at “doing more” in terms of allowing outdoor activities next month, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said.

There was an onus on the Government to outline as clear a plan as possible when it meets next week to decide on what coronavirus measures to relax in May, June and July, he added.

Restrictions on GAA intercounty training and high performing athletes were lifted on Monday and golf and tennis will be allowed to resume next week. Zoos, wildlife parks and heritage sites will also be allowed to reopen.

Mr Harris was asked at an event on Monday what the plan was for the reopening of outdoor hospitality given comments from Taoiseach Micheál Martin that hotels and guesthouses could reopen in June.

“I do think the evidence around outdoor activities, and how they can be done safely, perhaps gives hope that we can do a little bit more in the outdoor space. I think there might be the potential to do a bit more in May.

“For example at the moment you can meet up outdoor with one household, is there a possibility you can do more in relation to that? Things like outdoor dining and the likes, I am not in a position to give a definitive view on, but I think we need to start answering those questions next week.”

The Cabinet will meet next week to outline what can open in May, June and July subject to public health advice.

“When the Cabinet meets next week to talk about restrictions, it needs to provide a roadmap that goes beyond May. We need to try and provide people with as much certainty. So I think we should be able to provide detail on what May, June and July will look like,” Mr Harris said.

“If this week continues the way the last couple have, we will be able to meet as a Cabinet next week in a better position on Covid than we have been in many, many months. We are on the cusp of really getting ahead of this virus for the first time in a long time.”

Mr Harris also said the Cabinet stands “full square” behind the Minister for Health after reports that his Cabinet colleagues felt blindsided after Stephen Donnelly said over the weekend that younger groups could be vaccinated ahead of time.

Mr Donnelly then said the data did not support such a move.

“I think it is very important that the Government speaks extremely clearly on this matter and I hope we are today,” Mr Harris said. “The vaccine programme and the order remains unchanged. What people across our country want is certainty. I think what we now need to do is stick with the system we have, get on with the job, get the jabs in the arms as quick as possible.”

Mr Harris was speaking at the launch of a five-year action plan for apprenticeships which aims to see 10,000 new apprentice registrations every year by 2025.