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Phase One: Who's back to work and can you see your family if the government lifts the Covid-19 lockdown?

Cabinet is set to meet on Friday to discuss whether restrictions can be lifted.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is meeting today to decide on whether the government can begin easing Covid-19 restrictions from 18 May.

Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss NPHET’s advice and decide whether restrictions can be lifted, allowing the government’s to begin re-opening the economy from Monday.

Both NPHET and the government are taking a number of factors into account, and despite positive indications, it’s not guaranteed that restrictions will be lifted.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan said he is ‘hopeful’ that NPHET will be in a position to advise some relaxation of restrictions, but added that he will not be publicly sharing that advice until after Cabinet has met.

Hoewever, it’s widely expected that there will be a slight easing of the lockdown which has lasted for several weeks, and that Ireland will enter the first phase of the government’s roadmap next week.

The first phase

At the start of the month, 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. The document outlines how each phase impacts different sectors (e.g. education and sport), what will be allowed at each phase, and under what conditions. 

However, the beginning of each phase will be kept under constant review and there is a chance that restrictions that have previously been lifted could be re-imposed. 

It’s also notable that phases can kick in at different times. For instance, the ‘middle phase’ for education might start earlier than the same ‘middle phase’ for retail services.

The plan for all sectors is expected to begin next Monday – which is known as ‘phase one’.

Who’s going back to work?

During phase one, some non-essential retailers will re-open and outdoor work will resume. That means employees working in these shops and people like construction workers and gardeners will return to work.

Those shops will have to be larger though, and include the likes of garden centres, hardware and DIY stores, opticians, garden centres and motor and bike repair shops.

Retailers that do will be asked to develop a plan for safe operation and protection of staff and consumers. Those that can’t will remain closed.

Schools and college buildings may open for access by teachers for organisation and distribution of remote learning, but classes will not resume for pupils in schools.

It’s also important to point out that those in a position to work remotely will still be asked to do so.

What won’t be opening?

The likes of pubs, restaurants and cafés that don’t offer takeaway services will still be closed until at least phase three, which will begin in July if things go to plan.

Marts and small non-essential retail outlets with small numbers of staff will likewise remain closed until the second phase.

In terms of childcare, the likes of creches, childminders and pre-schools won’t be open until the third phase, along with public libraries, playgrounds and some sporting events.

There is also slim hope of getting a haircut any time soon, with hairdressers and barbers expected to be closed until the fourth phase, when museums, galleries and places of worship will also be allowed open.

Those hoping to hit the gym will have to wait even longer until phase five, when dance studios, sports clubs, bowling alleys, and theatres and cinemas where social distancing can be maintained will also re-open.

Can I see my family and friends?

People will still be advised to stay home most of the time and should continue to avoid unnecessary journeys and non-essential social visiting.

However, up to four people who are not living in the same household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining strict social distancing from next week – if the government does decide to ease restrictions.

Some outdoor amenities and tourism sites, where people are non-stationary and social distancing can be applied, will likewise to re-open.

Outdoor public sports amenities, such as golf courses, will be open where social distancing can be maintained.

And people will be allowed to engage in outdoor sporting or fitness activities in groups of up to four if they can also remain socially distant.

What needs to happen?

When the government published its roadmap for easing restrictions, it laid out a number of “trigger criteria” to be reviewed before moving into each of the five phases in the plan. 

Decision-making on these transitions will be based on a number of factors.

Key among them is how Covid-19 is continuing to spread in Ireland. If numbers this week remain below 200 new confirmed cases a day, that will be seen as a positive sign.

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Officials will also look at the capacity and resilience of the health service in terms of hospital and the occupancy of Intensive Care Units (ICU), the capacity of Ireland’s programme to sample and test suspected cases, as well as our contact tracing abilities.

Although it has been fraught with problems, testing has gradually ramped up in recent weeks and the HSE is aiming to be able to carry out 15,000 tests a day by Monday.

Earlier today, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the service aims to have a 90% turnaround time of three days on testing and contact tracing for positive cases by then.

Officials will also take our ability to shield and care for at risk groups into account, while there will likewise be an assessment of the risk of morbidity and mortality as a consequence of the restrictions, that is, from causes like strokes and heart attacks.

You can read all about what needs to happen for NPHET to recommend a lifting of restrictions here.

With reporting from Michelle Hennessy and Hayley Halpin.

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