Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 17°C The 5km travel limit is set to be eased by Cabinet this week.
# Decision time
Easing 5km, outdoor sports and meet ups outside: Phased 'cautious' relaxation of restrictions expected after 5 April
The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet today.

EASING OF THE 5km limit, outdoor sports, and the possibility of larger groups meeting up outdoors are due to be considered this week by government. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet today to discuss what recommendations it will give to government.

The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid will then meet this evening to discuss what easing might be possible, against the backdrop of worsening economic forecasts.

This morning, employers’ lobby group Ibec has downgraded its Irish growth forecasts for 2021, citing the length of the current set of restrictions.

Today’s Cabinet sub-committee meeting will be attended by the deputy chief medical officer, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan as well as a select number of ministers and top level senior servants. 

While the decision on what restrictions will be eased will be largely made at that meeting, a full cabinet meeting will needed to rubber stamp the decisions on Tuesday. 

It is expected the Taoiseach will then do a public address to the nation, most likely around 6pm that evening. 

It comes against the backdrop of worsening economic forecasts with employers’ group Ibec this morning downgrading its projections for Irish growth in 2021.

So what can we expect?

The Taoiseach has 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”.

The lifting of the 5km exercise limit is a definite, with ministers to consider raising it to 10-20km or county-wide, or whether to remove the restriction altogether.

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

While this will be welcome news to many, it is believed that not all the measures will kick in on the same date – instead the government is opting for phased basis approach.

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

Ministers will also discuss 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 will also be discussed.

Housing Minister Daragh O’Brien has been calling for the sector to get the green light to reopen since before Christmas.

Up to 800 house completions a week are being lost each week while parts of the building sector remains closed, with the industry arguing that Ireland is the only country in the EU where construction was halted. 

However, there is a question mark over construction, with some in government  concerned that the return of builders could jeopardise the full return of schools next month. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told his party members this week that the full reopening of schools in April is a priority for government. 

However, one minister said the reopening of construction must be a priority. Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday he would like to see an increase in construction activity, but only if public health advice allowed.

Coveney said the government would only have “very narrow” scope to ease restrictions, as the governmenet is trying to ensure is that we don’t allow a fourth wave.

He said the approach taken will be “cautious”, adding that he understood people would be “frustrated” at the government’s stance.

The Taoiseach indicated last week that the numbers allowed to attend funerals will be looked at again, but he also said he could give no guarantee that there would be any changes. 

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.

Government sources stated that they are acutely aware of people’s frustrations but say they are doing their utmost to ensure that the most vulnerable are vaccinated by mid-May.

Varadkar said a number of factors will feed into their decision-making process this week, such as the case numbers, the R number, hospitalisations, ICU numbers and the vaccine programme.

Speaking at his own parliamentary party meeting last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said by the end of April, Ireland will be in a different position, as all over-70s and those with serious underlying conditions will have received their first dose of a vaccine. 

He asked members “to stick with it for another few weeks”.

In April, vaccine supply will ramp way up, with one source highlighting at the weekend that 23,000 vaccines were given out on Wednesday and 27,000 on Thursday, noting that every jab done represents progress.

By yesterday, there were 760,168 doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered in Ireland.

  • 548,945 people have received their first dose
  • 211,223 people have received their second dose

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.

The approach from government is believed to be one of understanding of the level of public frustration, with the main aim to increase the vaccine rollout in April, and get the most vulnerable protected.

Micheál Martin is expected to give a broad outline of the possibility of a wider easing of restrictions in May and June. Such future measures will depend on case numbers and vaccination numbers proving favourable.

Economic forecasts

Economists expect a strong economic recovery in the second half of the year once restrictions are significantly lifted. However, the unexpected length of the current lockdown period has forced some forecasters to downgrade their growth projections for the year.

This morning, employers’ lobby group Ibec has shaved two percentage points off its projections for Irish gross domestic product (GDP).

Due to the length and severity of the current restrictions, it now expects the Irish economy to grow by 3.1% in 2021 rather than the 5.2% it predicted before Christmas.

In its latest quarterly outlook, the group said, “Over 650,000 people remain unemployed and a further 310,000 are reliant on wage subsidies, the current restrictions mean that most will remain there well into the second quarter. But we can begin to look forward to the second half of the year with hope.”

However, while “an efficient vaccine rollout might see the start of our recovery in the second half of 2021″ Ibec warned that normal trading conditions will not return in all sectors “due to ongoing social distancing and public health requirements”.

Unemployment is also likely to remain high until at least 2023, Ibec said.

Although large numbers of workers are likely to come off the PUP “relatively quickly if construction is reopened over the coming weeks”, Ibec expects unemployment to average 15.6% this year and 9.3% per cent in 2022.

Additional reporting by Ian Curran

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel