There has been broad support for the Government’s decision to extend the restrictions introduced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus until May 18, with a slow and staged reopening of activities over the months ahead.
Last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced plans to extend the restrictions, with some small but important changes.
From Tuesday, the 2km limit to get personal exercise is to be extended to 5km, and while those aged over 70 are advised to continue cocooning, they may go for a walk or drive within 5km of their homes once they avoid contact with all other people.
Paddy O’Brien, a well-known campaigner for older people in Cork, said that many older people would feel “like they had won the Lotto” following the announcement, which was “the first light at the end of the tunnel”.
“It’s good news and it will be welcomed by people who felt that they were imprisoned in their homes after the past few weeks,” he said.
“I’m very, very happy with this, I’ve been calling for this for the past few weeks.”
Mr O’Brien said older people had “completely come behind” the measures to reduce the spread of the virus, but that he had noticed a change in people’s mindset over the past five or six days.
“People felt down, they were wondering how they would stick it,’ he said. “This is a great boost for them. Please God, this is the start of the recovery.”
Mr O’Brien stressed that while a certain amount of older people would now be able to go for a walk or drive, those who are housebound remain vulnerable.
“I’d ask neighbours and the community to call or knock on the door of these people, and make sure they have adequate heating, food, and their medications,” he said.
Mr Varadkar also set out a broad roadmap last night on how the restrictions may be eased in the months ahead.
This will take place in five separate phases, he said, with the first phase commencing on May 18. From that date, outdoor work including construction and landscaping will resume, and a small number of retail outlets like garden centres, hardware stores, and repair shops will reopen.
Other businesses will open over the next four phases, with the last phase due to commence on August 10.
Speaking to The Echo, Lawrence Owens, chief executive of the Cork Business Association, said the Taoiseach’s “words of hope” had “provided a certain degree of certainty” for businesses.
“May 18 will be the start of the change,” he said. “We have some degree of clarity, we didn’t have that yesterday."
The Cork Business Association Chief said he was hopeful that more information about this roadmap, including when and what type of businesses can re-open, would be made available following the planned cabinet discussions today.
At a meeting yesterday, the Cabinet were expected to discuss further actions to help businesses restart and rehire staff who have been laid off or furloughed.
Mr Varadkar revealed last night that a national protocol is also being developed by the Government, employers, and trade unions, with the assistance of the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE, which “will enable a gradual restart of economic activity as restrictions are eased, while protecting the health and safety of workers as they return to work.”
Mr Owens said it is vital that people can get back to business but said it is crucial that the Government provide support to help them do so in tandem with the roadmap.
“Let’s head towards the new normal,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Owens said it is important businesses open at the right time.
“The last thing we want is to start going down the road, and then we have to go backwards — that is the worst thing that could happen,” he said.
Mr Varadkar also announced a number of other changes to the current restrictions, beginning from May 18.
Some outdoor sporting and fitness activities in small groups will be allowed from that date, many regular health services will resume operating, and it will be possible to meet small groups of friends and family outdoors, he announced.
In later phases, childcare, pre-schools, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, and gyms will reopen.
Schools and colleges are not set to reopen until September or October.