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'Cautious... that will be the guiding star': Cabinet sub-committee concludes meeting on Covid-19 recommendations

The meeting took place this evening and a full Cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow.

Members of the public on the seafront in Clontarf, Dublin today.
Members of the public on the seafront in Clontarf, Dublin today.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

Updated Mar 29th 2021, 11:42 PM

THE CABINET COVID-19 sub-committee met this evening over the potential easing of some Covid-19 restrictions. 

The meeting came after the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met this morning to discuss its recommendations to the government. 

The Cabinet sub-committee then considered these recommendations after hearing presentations from the HSE, NPHET and the high-level vaccine task force. 

The advice from NPHET was cautious, with a warning that any major lifting of restrictions could result in another wave of disease. 

It is understood that expectations may need to be lowered in terms of the restrictions being eased – changes due to be announced for April are likely to be limited, though an easing of the 5km rule is anticipated to be announced. It’s understood that there is the worry of a further wave of Covid-19 infections if too many changes are announced at once.

How the changes announced in April affect Covid-19 figures in the following weeks is likely to determine how quickly other mooted changes are rolled out in the months after.

It’s also understood that government will recognise the sacrifices that people are currently making in the fight against the spread of the virus.

Speaking after the meeting, Green Party leader and Minister Eamon Ryan said that the sub-committee received very detailed presentations today. “If we look at what’s going on in Europe, we have to be careful. The optimistic note is we have the vaccine … going out now at scale and that will give us protection. There are still a key number of weeks ahead. We’ll see tomorrow, we have to meet at Cabinet.”

He said that the decisions made tomorrow “will be part of a step-by-step approach – so April, May, June, take it one step at a time; it won’t be the full detail or anything, it’s crucial we get the next few weeks right and be on the path towards bringing back normality, and that’s in prospect now.”

A full Cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow at 1 pm with an address anticipated from the Taoiseach tomorrow evening, likely at around 6 pm. 

Ryan said they are “still in the space of getting the next few weeks right”.

“It’s more appropriate here to be just careful to not over-elaborate in terms of what will happen in May, June, July.

“First things first – we have to get April right.”

He said of the decision-making process: “Cautious, and listening to health advice – that will be the guiding star”.

Expectations

Among the measures under consideration is an easing of the 5km limit, permissions on outdoor sports and the possibility of larger groups meeting outdoors. 

It is believed that not all the measures will kick in on the same date, with the government instead opting for a phased basis approach.

In attendance at the Cabinet sub-committee meeting were the deputy chief medical officer, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister Ryan as well as a select number of ministers and top-level senior servants. 

While the decision on what restrictions will be eased was to be largely made at this meeting, a full Cabinet meeting is needed to rubber-stamp the decisions tomorrow.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin had already flagged well in advance what is being considered. He came under pressure last week from his own parliamentary party to scrap the 5km travel limit in its entirety, with some branding it “ridiculous”.

There will be a big emphasis on outdoor activities, with the opening up of outdoor sports for children expected to be given the green light.

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It’s expected guidance could also allow for outdoor sports, where social distancing is possible, such as golf, tennis, and fishing.

It is understood that the government will consider allowing more households to meet outside – with sources stating that they are acutely aware of people’s mental health at this point, and some acknowledging that such meetups are already happening.

Ministers discussed at the meeting the possibility of a return to click and collect, but the full reopening of retail is not on the cards for now. 

Reopening the construction sector is also anticipated to be announced tomorrow.

- Additional reporting by Christina Finn.

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