Some larger stores to reopen on Monday ahead of schedule
‘Air bridges’ proposed to facilitate overseas travel as further easing of lockdown is recommended
The opening of larger retail stores is to be brought forward and will see some bigger shops open from next Monday.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met today and is recommending that some larger retailers be allowed open next week as long as they have entrances onto the street. It will not include retailers based in shopping centres.
This was due to initially happen on June 29th — phase three of the plan to lift coronavirus restrictions — but is being brought forward to next Monday, June 8th, which is phase two.
It was initially planned under this second phase that only smaller retailers would open.
Social distancing must be maintained in all circumstances.
Not all retail chains are due to reopen on Monday with Penneys saying it would reopen its Irish stores at a later because of the lead-in time required.
Other measures signed off by NPHET today include:
* Further measures to help children with special needs and a return to some educational and summer camp activities along with the reopening of playgrounds - subject to supervision and cleaning; and
* Changes to allow visitors into nursing homes in certain circumstances but with strict guidelines on who will be permitted while ensuring visitors observe appropriate hand hygiene and maintain physical distancing from residents.
Nursing homes have restricted visitors since March apart from exceptional circumstances.
The lifting of travel restrictions from 5km to 20km will also proceed as planned from Monday.
The plan also says that from Monday visits to the homes of people aged 70 and over will be permitted by no more than a few people for a short period of time and they must wear face coverings and maintain strict physical distancing of two metres.
For others, up to four people will be advised that they can visit another household for a short period while maintaining physical distancing.
The measures must be signed off by Cabinet and will be outlined in detail when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces the second wave of relaxation on Friday.
Opening a Dáil debate on the Covid-19 crisis in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar also said he hoped international air travel would resume through “air bridges” with countries that have suppressed the virus to a similar extent as Ireland.
“This however some weeks away,” he said.
It was “far too soon” for people to book their holidays “but summer is not yet lost”, he added.
The move comes as industry groups - especially in the hospitality sector - pressure the Government to accelerate the lifting of the restrictions, a move favoured by several Ministers.
But the Taoiseach and Minister for Health Simon Harris are reluctant to accelerate the reopening without the endorsement - a sort of “political cover” - from health experts.
In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said the Government had made “proposals about bringing things forward from phase four to three and three to two” in the roadmap to re-open the economy and society.The Taoiseach stressed, however, that any change would only be made if it was safe to do so.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said there had to be wider mental health considerations on some of the timelines to lift restrictions.
Mr Ryan said he accepted decisions must be based on good health advice and the mix of health advice but he said if allowing people to move around the country took place at the start rather than the end of the month “it would have a significant bearing on the viability of the tourism industry into next year and a very significant impact on the return of jobs across the country to cater for those domestic holidaymakers”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said many of the restrictions which made sense when they were introduced did not make as much sense now and he said it was unfortunate the Government stuck “rigidly to its about approach about the easing of restrictions”.
Mr Martin said there is no doubt that “compliance is fraying” and people feel their efforts are being undermined. He said the Government must fully explain the rationale for the remaining restrictions.
Meanwhile, an infectious diseases expert has warned that Ireland can not be compared with other European countries which had moved quicker to ease restrictions brought in to control the spread of coronavirus.
Dr Paddy Mallon, professor of microbial diseases at University College Dublin and consultant in infectious diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, said comparisons with other countries “don’t stand up to scrutiny”.
Business group Ibec said lockdown restrictions need to be eased quicker to allow most traders reopen by the end of the month and into July.
Maeve McElwee, Ibec’s director of employee relations, said Ireland has to deal with its economic situation as well as itspublic health issues.
“We are lagging considerably behind lots of our European neighbours in terms of reopening,” she said.