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Explainer: What exactly ARE the current Covid-19 restrictions and when can we expect them to change?

Sometimes the news all blends together, so here’s a reminder.

002 NO FEE Gov Brief Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Source: RollingNews.ie

WHETHER IT’S WORKING from home or being unable to visit one’s family members, people in this country have been living under various restrictions to their lives for well over a month now.

Tomorrow, it will be six weeks since the school’s were closed and this weekend represents a month since the country effectively locked down when the Taoiseach told us all to stay at home

But while all these unprecedented changes to Irish life have in a strange way become somewhat normalised, the pace of change often makes things difficult to follow and there has even been talk of complacency.

Frequent extraordinary announcements, like yesterday’s move to stop all licenced gatherings, can sometimes all blend together and create confusion. 

Ryan Tubridy summed it up in his introduction to his RTÉ radio programme this morning, saying that even he struggles to digest all the Covid-19 news that’s happening.

“There’s a lot going on and I can understand why the message might not be as clear as we might hope,” Tubridy said. 

So in a response to that and other similar queries we’ve been getting, here’s a reminder of the important restrictions to remember, what they mean and how long they’ll be in place for. 

Staying at home

HSE BRIEF 047 A Department of Health Covid-19 advisory. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

They’re three words that we see in the corner of our television screens every day. The message is simple and correct but the situation is also a little bit more complicated. 

The message to ‘stay at home’ currently applies until at least 5 May and means that everybody in Ireland must stay at home except for specific instances. 

People are allowed travel from their homes to get food, household goods or to attend medical appointments, but not for the purposes of making social visits to others. Only retail outlets listed as essential should remain open. 

People must also not travel to work unless they are considered an “essential service” and their work cannot be undertaken from home. 

There’s an extensive list provided by the government of which jobs are considered to be essential

2km limit

16 First weekend of the New Year A jogger runs along Dollymount strand in Dublin. Source: Rollingnews.ie

People are also allowed leave their house for the purpose of exercise but they must not do that exercise more than 2km from their home.  

Anecdotally, this 2km limit has been seen to cause some confusion among people.

For clarity, the distance limit relates to exercise only and people can therefore travel outside of this distance for the specific reasons outlined, such as shopping etc.  

The 2km limit does not however mean that social visits are permitted within this distance.

Exercise is only to be undertaken by people within your household, so a walk with those you live with is allowed but meeting up with someone else from a different household to go for a run or walk is not. 

This also applies to social visits. While it may be a difficult restriction to adhere to, visiting a friend, family member or partner living within this distance is not a valid reason to leave your home. 

Gardaí have been given new powers to enforce these measures

Cocooning

001 Gardai A garda shopping for a resident in Mountjoy. Source: Twitter/GardaInfo

One of the many words to enter the lexicon of our national conversation over the past month or so, cocooning remains the advice that pertains to people aged over the age of 70 or others deemed  to be “extremely medically vulnerable”

Since the government’s stay-at-home order was issued on 27 March, these people have been asked to stay at home at all times and avoiding face-to-face contact in a bid to prevent them contracting the coronavirus

Relatives or friends of those who are cocooned are permitted and encouraged to shop on their behalf to deliver them food or medication. 

Even when doing this though, the delivered items should be left at the door to minimise contact. 

The advice for older people to cocoon has been acknowledged by authorities to be a particularly challenging restriction to follow. 

In laying out that people aged over 70 should not be permitted to leave their house for exercise, it places such older people in a different category to the rest of the population. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan said last week that the advice was not about suggesting that people over 70 are necessarily unfit or have medical conditions, but rather about acknowledging that Covid-19 is more likely to have a greater impact on them regardless their physical condition.

Holohan said it was not yet appropriate to end the cocooning advice “until we think that we have sufficient control” of the virus in society. 

Mass gatherings

NO FEE338 Longitude Festival Saturday Last year's Longitude festival. Source: RollingNews.ie

Yesterday’s announcement on mass gatherings has made clear what has been very likely for some time, that this summer will be unlike what we’re used to in Ireland. 

It effectively meant that all concerts and festivals are off until at least September and it also cast major doubt on any major sporting events happening either. 

Specifically, the announcement actually said that no licences would be granted for events of over 5,000 people. Such licences are decided by local authorities and the statement effectively told local authorities not to even consider them. 

This does not however mean that events of less than 5,000 are therefore allowed. 

Before the most severe restrictions were put in place on 27 March, the government had already advised that mass gatherings should be cancelled.

The government’s definition of a mass gathering is one of more than 100 people for an indoor event and more than 500 for an outdoor event. 

Clearly, this advice rules out even smaller concerts, most weddings and sporting events.

This advice is still in effect and, unless the government changes it, the above listed examples are also off too. Sporting organisations have already been seeking clarity about whether such a change is to be expected. 

5 May

This brings us to the question of whether we can expect any major changes when the current measures expire on 5 May. 

Several countries across the world have begun loosening restrictions and Irish health authorities have said they are examining their experiences at doing so.

Professor Philip Nolan of the National Public Health Emergency Team has said that the loosening of restrictions must be approached “exceptionally carefully” and that if any changes are made it is possible they may be implemented again.

Speaking last night on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the government is “preparing a plan” about how restrictions may be lifted and that they will be constantly reviewed. 

“(The plan) will set out in a stepwise fashion, in different steps, how we will reopen our economy, how will we reopen our society, and what criteria we’ll use to decide how to do that,” Varadkar said.

So I think everyone understands that it won’t be done in one go, in one fell swoop, it won’t be back to normal on day one. What we’ll do is to set out a whole series of steps that we can take and every two to three weeks we’ll review them, see how we’re doing and if we’re doing well we can move to the next stage which is more reopening, or if we’re not then we’ll stay where we are. 

Varadkar said that this plan will be shared with the public before 5 May but he refused to give a firm date as to when the plan would be published.

“I don’t want to say now that we’re going to do X and Y, only to turn around in a few days time and tell you we’re going to do Y and Z instead. So when you hear it from me it’s the plan, and it’s not going to change,” the Taoiseach said.

So to reiterate, everything you read above remains in place until you hear otherwise. Until that, the advice to stay at home is perhaps the easiest to follow.  

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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