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Construction, 5km limit, and outdoors activities: Cabinet to sign off on Covid-19 restrictions

A nationwide announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin is expected at around 6pm.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RN

CABINET WILL MEET this afternoon to consider what restrictions might possibly be eased next month following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). 

NPHET convened yesterday and finalised its advice for Government which the sub-committee on Covid-19 considered last night after hearing presentations from the HSE, NPHET and the high-level vaccine task force.

The public health team recommended a cautious approach and warned that any major lifting of restrictions could result in another wave of disease, amid increasing concern over Covid-19 cases in the country. 

Among the measures under consideration are 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.

It may be May or June before a greater easing of restrictions will be made.

Cabinet is meeting at 1pm this afternoon to finalise details, before a nationwide announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin later, expected at around 6pm. Martin is expected to give a broad outline of the possibility of a wider easing of restrictions over the next few months. 

What we know

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 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.

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

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

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

While some TDs have called for religious services to be allowed to resume, it is understood that Mass will remain online during Easter week due to the R number remaining above 1.

Due to the B117 variant, the government is understood to still be very conscious of the number of contacts people will have over the next few months, which is why there will be a big concentration on the outdoors.

All remaining second level students will return to in-school learning on 12 April, the final stage in the phased reopening of all schools which began with the return of younger primary school students and sixth years on 1 March.

‘We have to get April right’

The Government has previously indicated that a phased approach to easing restrictions and reopening society will be taken in the lead-up to the summer.

Speaking after last night’s Cabinet sub-committee Green Party leader and Minister Eamon Ryan said the decisions made today “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.”

“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”.

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The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said the Government has a responsibility to announce a pathway facilitating the eventual reopening of the hospitality sector, saying they are completely in the dark about when or how the sector might be in a position to reopen. 

“After such an extended closure the Government has a duty of care to provide a pathway forward for the hundreds of thousands of people employed by these sectors. They can’t be left in perpetual lockdown,” said Donall O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the LVA.

“As we move into the second quarter of the year, surely it is time that the Government started sharing their broad plans with the rest of the country. We need hope. Hope is the glue that binds the current social contract and it needs to be tended to.

No one is anticipating specific reopening dates will be announced at this point. But it is reasonable to expect that various indicators could be made publicly available, like the level of vaccines that will need to be administered or what levels of community transmission will support the opening of different industries. That is the least the people who are dependent on these sectors deserve.

There was one further Covid-19-related death in Ireland,  confirmed last night, along with another 539 cases of the virus.

As of 8pm last night, 313 coronavirus patients were in hospital, of whom 70 were in ICUs.

There were 19 additional hospital admissions in the previous 24 hours.

There were 786,569 doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered in Ireland, as of Friday 26 March.

  • 567,023 people have received their first dose
  • 219, 569 people have received their second dose

Vaccine supply is expected to ramp up next month, with Ireland due to receive 600,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine between April and June.

The pharmaceutical giant announced that it will start delivering its single-shot vaccine to Europe on 19 April, giving the continent a boost as it struggles to speed up its vaccination drive.

On average over one million vaccines a month will arrive in April, May and June and will be administered quickly, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. 

- With reporting from Christina Finn 

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Adam Daly

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