Taoiseach announces new county-wide travel limit as we reach the 'final stretch'

Ministers were also told not enough people have been vaccinated to take risks when it comes to Covid-19 restrictions
Taoiseach announces new county-wide travel limit as we reach the 'final stretch'

The Cabinet has agreed to ease lockdown restrictions in Ireland from April 12th.

Earlier this evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the nation and outlined what freedoms people can expect to return from next month and the roadmap beyond that.

Here are the key points surrounding the easing of restrictions starting next month:

  • April 12th: Extending the five-kilometre exercise limit to a county-wide limit. You can also travel within 20km of your residence if crossing county boundaries;
  • April 12th: Two fully vaccinated people permitted to meet indoors, and two households permitted to meet outdoors;
  • April 12th: All school students will return to classrooms. Early Learning and Childcare and school aged childcare services will be added to list of essential services for construction activity during these restrictions to align with the current exemption to primary and secondary schools;
  • April 12th: A partial resumption of construction will begin with the return of 5,000 home building workers;
  • April 19th: The return of elite athletics and GAA. Training for and playing of National Governing Body sanctioned and organised adult intercounty National Gaelic Games Leagues, not including under 20 or minor competitions;
  • April 19th: Certain high performing athletes as approved by Sport Ireland, in a range of sports will be allowed to train;
  • April 26th: Resuming some sporting activities including tennis, golf and under 18 training;
  • April 26th: Reopening of zoos and heritage sites;
  • May 4th: Reopening of museums and galleries;
  • May: A phased return of personal services such as hairdressers, retail and click-and-collect services, and the remainder of construction. The recommencement of religious services on a staggered basis will also be considered.

Final stretch

At the briefing on Tuesday evening, the Taoiseach said: “More than 800,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

“That means that we have given vaccines the first vaccination to those over 80, to frontline healthcare workers, and we are making good progress with the most medically vulnerable.

“This has allowed us to move to the next phase and begin vaccinating people over 65, and people with underlying medical conditions.

“By the middle of April, all over 70s will have had their first dose, and mid to late May all over 70s will be fully vaccinated.”

The Taoiseach said close to three million doses will be administered by the end of May, nearly five million doses by early July and six million doses by the end of July.

Ending on a more optimistic tone, he said: “We are on the final stretch of this terrible journey. This summer, our businesses and our public services will safely reopen.

“We will finally be meeting and enjoying the company of friends and family once again. We will be able to travel within and enjoy our beautiful country again. Jobs and livelihoods will be restored.”

He reiterated that steadily, and safely, we will get through “this final phase together.”

Cabinet meeting concludes

Earlier this afternoon, the Cabinet meeting saw the approval of plans to allow people to travel within their country or within a 20km radius of their home even if that crosses a county boundary from April 12th.

From this date, two households will also be permitted to meet outdoors and two fully vaccinated people to meet indoors, while a staggered resumption of construction will begin with the return of 5,000 home building workers.

Later in the month, GAA senior county training will be allowed from April 19th. Golf, tennis and outdoor non-contact training for under 18s will resume and zoos and places of heritage will open from April 26th. There will be an increase in attendance at funerals from 10 to 25.

In May, longer-term plans will see the potential return of personal services such as hairdressers and the phased reopening of retail.

‘Victory within grasp’

Speaking to reporters before the Cabinet meeting began this afternoon, Public Finance Minister Michael McGrath said that “victory over this virus is now within grasp.”

He added: “I think beyond the next number of weeks, and we will lay out what the decisions are for the next number of weeks, there will be a need to give the general public a sense of what lies ahead of us in the summer, through May, June and July.

“We had a very lengthy engagement with Nphet last evening. It’s fair to say they have concerns about the level of the virus at this point in time and where it might go in the weeks ahead if we don’t stay the course.

“There is a need to stay the course. But there are changes we can bring about that will improve people’s quality of life and that will show that we have made huge progress.

“We’re almost there. We certainly want to make sure that we get through April in decent shape and that people can see then that further improvements are possible in terms of reopening society and reopening the economy.”

Return dates

Although April 5th was marked as the date for easing restrictions, Government have now changed it to the 12th.

At a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday night, senior Ministers on the group agreed the change to travel restrictions should take place on April 12th rather than April 5th, when the current Level 5 restrictions were set to end.

A Government source told The Irish Times this rationale behind the delayed easing was to “keep [case] numbers down over Easter school holidays”.

The Government’s priority is for the full return of schools, with all primary and secondary students to return after the Easter break.

Phased reopening

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) warned that reopening too much, too fast will risk a fourth wave of the virus.

It has advised a cautious reopening over the next four to eight weeks, to allow the vaccine programme to ramp up and reduce the risk of another surge.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan confirmed as he left the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday night that the easing of restrictions during April will now be gradual and staged.

“First things first. We have got to get April right. We need to get the extra million vaccines in April. That will give us real protection. A further million vaccines in May, and we are a large way there. It’s not far away. We have to be careful not to jump ahead and get the next few weeks right first,” he said.

Nphet advice

Ministers were told by public health officials at the Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday that the State has not vaccinated enough people to take risks when it comes to easing lockdown.

The committee met for more than four hours on Monday and heard presentations from the HSE, Nphet and the high-level vaccine taskforce.

Sources told The Irish Times that the mood in the meeting was “grim”, with those present told that while Covid-19 cases are stable now, altering public health measures could change this.

Ministers were told that if the State lost control of the disease now there could be a substantial wave of infections until the middle of the summer, whereas a cautious approach for the next four to eight weeks could cut the risk by between 50 and 70 per cent.

Wider reaction

The latest easing of restrictions have been broadly welcomed from a wide range of sectors.

Ireland’s hotel and guesthouse community welcomed the Taoiseach’s announcement today on the reopening of society in which he said the Government will look in May at the reopening of hotels and guesthouses in June.

Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation said: “This is very encouraging news for people seeking a well-deserved break and for the many thousands of people employed across the tourism sector who are currently laid off.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Hairdressers Federation welcomed the announcement by Government that the sector could be allowed to reopen in May.

According to the Federation’s president, Danielle Kennedy said: ‘’We would like to thank the Government for listening to our appeal to be allowed to reopen in May, but we would greatly welcome more clarity which salon owners across the country urgently require.’’

Despite the broad positive reaction, Retail Excellence said it is “deeply shocked and disappointed” that click and collect services will not be reintroduced until May, adding that this will have a “profoundly negative” effect on the retail industry.

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