By Michelle Devane and Cate McCurry, PA
The Cabinet has signed off on a plan to significantly ease Covid-19 restrictions over the coming weeks, after a meeting this afternoon.
The plan is based on the acceleration of the vaccination programme and Covid-19 cases remaining low, with a senior Minister warning it will be revised if there is a spike in infections.
It includes the lifting of the ban on intercounty travel, greater freedoms for vaccinated people, a relaxation of restrictions on outdoor gatherings, and the reopening of personal services and outdoor hospitality.
It’s been a tough year... I think for our country this is a good day
Speaking on his way into the Cabinet meeting earlier this afternoon, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the planned easing of restrictions would be a “big step in the right direction” and would bring a “lot of much-needed relief” to people across the country.
Mr Donnelly said: “It’s been a tough year and we’ll take our good days and I think for our country this is a good day.”
However, he warned that as Nphet continues to advise “we’ve got to be sensible about it”.
“There are a lot of measures we can embrace but we need to not go beyond those measures,” he said.
“The seven-day rate is continuing to rise. It’s gone up by a quarter in the past week and the number of clusters is still going up and the B117 variant is nearly all new cases.”
It is understood that the new reopening plan involves the four key dates of May 10th, May 17th, June 2nd, and June 7th.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin is set to confirm the dates and details later this evening.
From May 10th, it is expected that intercounty travel will be permitted, hairdressers will reopen and click-and-collect retail services will return.
Three households will also be able to meet outdoors in private gardens, while a vaccinated household can meet with an unvaccinated household indoors.
The full resumption of construction work is also set to begin from May 10th, and the number of people permitted to attend religious services is also expected to increase to 50.
Another key date in the calendar is May 17th, when non-essential retail will begin to reopen.
Hotels, guest houses and outdoor hospitality are expected to reopen from early June.
'Hope will start breaking through'
A staged and incremental reopening of society next month offers Ireland a pathway out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister Simon Coveney has said.
Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the reopening is in line with public health advice.
“I think today is one of those moments when hope will start breaking through amongst society in Ireland, that there is a pathway out of this awful pandemic that we’ve been experiencing now for over a year,” he added.
“It’s staged, it’s incremental, it’s consistent with public health advice, but it is very hopeful.
“What we’re talking about now is staging decisions on May 10th, on May 17th, June 2nd, June 7th.
“We can gradually move towards releasing people from the restrictions that they’ve been living within in their families and their businesses, their ability to be able to move around.”
The Minister also separately warned that if there is a spike in Covid cases following the easing of restrictions, then the Government will change its plans.
We’ll see a lot of our personal freedoms restored
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also said it is a “day of hope for Ireland”.
“All things going to plan over the course of May, June and July most businesses will reopen,” he told the Dáil.
“Hundreds of thousands of people currently on the Pandemic Unemployment Payments will be able to return to work, and we’ll see a lot of our personal freedoms restored.
“In May alone, we could see as many as 15,000 businesses reopen and as many as 200,000 people being offered their jobs back.”
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly probed Mr Varadkar about pandemic supports for businesses and people.
Mr Varadkar said the Government will set out a plan by the end of May about financial supports from July onwards.