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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 2 July, 2020
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Cabinet set to sign off on Ireland proceeding to Phase Two of reopening

There will be some changes to the published roadmap.

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has tonight given a strong indication that Cabinet will sign off on Ireland moving to Phase 2 of the government’s easing of the lockdown restrictions.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting held at Dublin Castle this evening – the first meeting in which all ministers and the Taoiseach have been in the same room together since March – Harris said all the indicators were looking good for the next phase of the plan.

As the plan moves from the 5km to 20km travel limit, the government’s slogan might change to “stay local” rather than “stay at home”, Harris told reporters.

The health minister said tonight that some of the measures being brought forward are specifically with children and older people in mind.

He said the pandemic has been “tougher” for some groups of people than others.

From Monday, many people will be allowed to visit their family. When asked if grandparents will be able to hug their grandchildren, Harris said:

“The reality is we will be recommending that social distancing is still followed. So if you are visiting granny or granddad or mum or dad or indeed anybody in an indoor setting we will be asking people to keep their social distance.”

When asked if hotels could potentially open sooner to make use of some of the holiday season before the schools reopen, Harris said “a body of work” would need to be done about any such acceleration.

Another Cabinet meeting – to sign off on the next phase of the easing of coronavirus restrictions (Phase Two) from Monday – will take place tomorrow morning.

Earlier today, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met and made its recommendations to government on the matter. 

At the start of May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a five-step plan – which can be read in full here – for lifting the measures put in place by the government to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Under the plan, each phase will last three weeks – something the Taoiseach said today will remain in place.

Here’s what’s planned between 8 June and 29 June, based on what we know from the original roadmap plan and developments in recent days. 

20 kilometres 

From Monday, the guidance states that members of the public will be able to travel 20km from their home, instead of the 5km as set down under Phase One.

Despite pressure from opposition to scrap the 20km rule entirely this week, the Taoiseach and Health Minister Simon Harris have both dampened expectations that the distance rule will be modified beyond 20km.

There have also been calls for the two metre social distancing guidance to be reduced to one metre in Phase Two – however, it doesn’t look likely that any changes will be made on the issue tomorrow.

Speaking in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar said: “If we go from 2 metres to 1 metre, it is a risk. We should not pretend that it is not a risk.”

He added: “We will not be recommending a change as part of Phase Two tomorrow. That is not to say that we might not do so in future.”

Some businesses had been lobbying for a change in the rule, insisting the 2 metre guidance could make running a business unworkable. 

Harris confirmed this evening that there are no plans to change the guidance on the two metre distancing rule.

Retail

What will be welcome news to some is the reopening of major retail outlets.

In the original roadmap, it was envisaged that only small retail outlets would be able to reopen on Monday. However it was confirmed today that all high street stores that have an entrance at street-level will be permitted to open their doors again next week.

Stores must adhere to social distancing rules and limit the number of shoppers inside at any one time. Changing rooms will also be closed. 

Shopping centres will remain closed during Phase 2, as will shops that have entrances within shopping centres only. Marts can reopen where social distancing can be maintained. 

With the confirmation today that retailers will be allowed open their doors on Monday, Harris was asked this evening if the government was giving businesses enough time to get ready to reopen.

“I think we are. I think we’re giving people as much time as possible in a very dynamic situation,” he said.

His advice to businesses is: “don’t open until you’re happy it’s safe to do so.”

Shops should be satisfied they have all the measures in place to ensure staff and shoppers are safe, he added.

“It’s better if it takes you a couple more days to open and know that you can open in a way that you will be able comply with the workplace protocols,” said Harris. 

When asked if he is concerned about a rush on the shops when they open next week, the health minister said his advice is the same that he gave in Phase 1 when hardware stores were allowed open.

“Just because something is open doesn’t mean we all have to go there at the same time,” he said.

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“We want things to be open on Monday that can stay open on Tuesday and Wednesday and the following week and not have to close again. A lot of that is within our control, our individual control, in many ways, the more we step away from a full lockdown, the actual greater individual personal responsibility becomes,” said Harris.

Looking at other economic activity, workers who can keep working from home should continue to do so during Phase 2.

In terms of social visits, according to the original roadmap, up to four people may visit another household for a short period while maintaining strict social distancing during Phase Two.

For the first time since lockdown measures were introduced, people will be permitted to visit their family in their respective homes (but only if they live within 20km of them).

This advice is not solely for family members. The Phase 2 easing states: “Up to four people may visit another household for a short period of time but everyone must keep at least two metres apart from people they don’t live with.”

Visits to homes of over 70s and the medically vulnerable are allowed but by no more than a small number of people for a short period of time, according to the roadmap plan. People will have to wear gloves, face coverings and maintain social distancing.

As part of Phase Two, according to the roadmap, the number of people allowed to attend funerals will also increase.

Other potential measures earmarked for Monday include the reopening of playgrounds, as well as the lifting of some restrictions on nursing home visits, in some circumstances.

Further details are expected to be confirmed tomorrow. 

People may also be allowed to visit hospitals, residential centres and prisons again.

It’s expected sports clubs will be able to hold training sessions, but will not be permitted to play matches.

In terms of cultural and social measures, public libraries can reopen but numbers allowed inside at any one time will be limited. 

The Taoiseach stated earlier today that the government had made proposals to the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET about bringing things forward some measures from Phase Four to Phase Three.

But for any measures to be brought forward, Ireland must continue to report low levels of infection.

The Taoiseach is expected to announce that the country can proceed to Phase Two tomorrow afternoon.

While the health minister said that all indications are that the country will proceed to the next phase, he cautioned that moving from one phase to the next phase was “not inevitable and not guaranteed”.

Another important issue other which will be discussed by ministers tomorrow, with an announcement to follow, is the extension of the pandemic payment and wage subsidy scheme.

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