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LIVE: Taoiseach announces reopening plan with haircuts, click-and-collect and garden meet-ups back from 10 May

Cabinet agreed a range of measures this afternoon.

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HERE WE GO again.

We’ve been in Level 5 all year but restrictions have slowly begun to ease in recent weeks. Now, it’s all about the plans to ease those further.

After NPHET’s meeting yesterday, Cabinet has agreed measures to ease lockdown.

The Taoiseach this evening announced re-opening plans in a number of areas including hairdressing, retail and outdoor meet-ups.

Good morning.

Sean Murray here, and I’ll be with you for most of the day with all the latest updates.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we can expect today:

Cabinet will gather later this morning with the meeting expected to last well into the afternoon.

Once that meeting is finished, we can expect another address to the nation from Micheál Martin where he outlines the latest roadmap out of lockdown at around 6pm.

After that then, he and other senior ministers will take questions from reporters and – hopefully – outline more detail and rationale behind the plans. 

You could be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu today.

It’s sunny (where I am, at least). We’ve been in lockdown for what feels like ages. It’s been a rough few months. 

And we’re waiting to hear how and when restrictions will be eased.

It’s almost a year to the day since then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlined the roadmap out of the first lockdown

All the same things in that plan are under the same focus today – when can non-essential retail re-open? Gyms? Hairdressers? Pubs and restaurants?

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that under the new plan being finalised, he wants the sectors that re-open to stay open and not have to close again in the future.

Let’s hope so. 

Of course, one of the huge differences between this year and last year is vaccinations. 

According to the latest HSE figures (with figures for Tuesday due shortly), 1.4 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine had been given by close of play Monday. 

This includes one million people who’ve received a first dose. 

There’s still a long way to go obviously in the next few months. 

But if the expected ramp-up – I promise it’s the only time I’ll use that phrase in this liveblog – comes as it should, then that’ll be most welcome as we hopefully ease restrictions further.

Please ignore the previous post referencing sunny weather. 

It’s now lashing where I am. 

So what can we expect in the announcement later?

Our political correspondent Christina Finn has you covered in our piece this morning.

She reports: “The inter-county travel ban is to be lifted on 10 May under plans agreed by the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 last night.

“On the same date, hairdressers, barbers and salons are due to reopen, as is click and collect shopping.

“Places of worship are all set for good news, with 50 attendees permitted at normal services, as well as funerals and weddings. 

“However, six people can only attend the wedding reception indoors or 15 outdoors. This will increase to 25 in June.

“Three households can also meet up outside from 10 May. House viewings in person will also resume on this date, as will driving tests.

“Full retail will resume on 17 May. Full construction work will open earlier than most industries on 4 May, having been partially reopened in recent weeks.”

Another one to watch will be the re-opening of outdoor dining and beer gardens on 7 June, after the bank holiday weekend. 

There will be no distinction between restaurants, pubs or other food outlets and the €9 meal measure will not return.

There is no fixed date for indoor dining, but it is set to be some time in July.

Hotels and B&Bs can reopen on 2 June and will be permitted to serve residents indoors it is understood.

Gyms and swimming pools will reopen their doors on 7 June, but will not be permitted to hold classes – it will be individual training only.

On that day too sports matches will resume but no crowds will be allowed to attend. 

A bone of contention appearing already is that hotels are expected to be permitted to re-open on 2 June and serve residents indoors. 

The Restaurants Association of Ireland isn’t happy with this. 

The group said on Twitter in the last few minutes: “Restaurants, Cafés & Gastropubs should open for indoor dining when Hotels do. There has been no medical evidence showing differentiation between the two. Both operate social distancing, sanitising, Failte Ireland Guidelines, Sign up to Safety Charter. This is inequitable.”

We’ll be keeping an eye on the reaction from various industry bodies and trade unions throughout the day. 

Another topic up for consideration today is the Passport Service being made an essential service to clear the backlog of 90,000 that has built up

It’s something The Journal has reported on extensively in recent months as parents who submitted their own passports as part of applications for their children have been left without them since Christmas.

Following that reporting, the Passport Office said it would issue more passports to applicants after expanding the criteria for what is a reasonable excuse to travel during the period of Level 5 restrictions.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today that he expects the backlog can be cleared within weeks.

He added: “That’s why I think it’s important in Cabinet today to confirm… that the ability to be able to get a passport or to get your passport renewed or your child’s passport renewed, is an essential service.”

In other news, tomorrow marks the end of the government’s well-intended but barely used Stay and Spend Scheme. 

From 1 October until 30 April (tomorrow), the government allowed taxpayers claim a maximum of €125 back in tax credits on their spending in the hospitality sector. To qualify for the maximum amount, you had to spend €625.

But because there was only a short window during that time when hospitality was open, due to severe Covid-19 restrictions and a devastating third wave of Covid-19 in the New Year, the scheme was curtailed.

In our poll this morning, we asked you if you’d used the ill-fated scheme.

Getting out a bit earlier of a Thursday, the HSE has just begun its weekly press conference at Dr Steeven’s Hospital.

Our reporter Michelle Hennessy is there, so we’ll be bringing you the updates on vaccine rollouts and related matters from Paul Reid et al. 

As of last night, there were 151 people with Covid-19 in hospital. This included 44 patients with Covid-19 in ICU. 

It was another decent day for the vaccine rollout on Tuesday. 

A further 34,492 vaccines were administered in Ireland two days ago. The 7-day rolling total is 211,469.

Paul Reid says the HSE is working to revise the vaccine plan again.

It’s only version 27 of the plan.

(Due mostly to repeated supply issues and NIAC advice around AstraZeneca and J&J)

Looking to the continent now, and the European Parliament has voted to introduce Covid-19 passports for the EU – or Digital Green Certificates – in time for the summer.

The idea behind the Covid passport system is to allow anyone who is fully vaccinated, or who has a negative Covid-19 test, or who has recovered from Covid-19, to travel within the EU by presenting this paper or digital certificate.

The next stage will involve negotiations between the European Parliament, based on these prioirities; and the European Council, or the leaders of the 27 EU member states, about how to implement the certificates.

Once officially introduced, Ireland and other EU member states will be obliged to give one of these EU Covid-19 certificates to anyone eligible for one who requests it.

You can read more about that here

Some more reaction to the – I must stress, yet to be formally announced – re-opening plans now. 

Retail Excellence Ireland says there’s no need for such a gap between the re-opening of click and collect services (10 May) and non-essential retail (17 May) when “every day counts for retailers”. 

Its managing director Duncan Graham said: “The government appears to be over-engineering the timing of the reopening when it would be better to keep it simple.

“We have been calling for a significant rescue package on rents, restart grants and the extension of rates waivers for some time, as without them a huge number of businesses could go to the wall. It is simply not feasible for retailers to pick up where they left off so we need to see concrete proposals as a matter of urgency.”

Michelle Hennessy has more from the HSE press conference. 

Paul Reid has said that the HSE is on track to deliver 160,000-180,000 this week.

The target for next week is 220,000-240,000.

He also said the HSE is working to get a clearer idea from manufacturers of deliveries over May and June.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is striking a positive tone on Twitter this morning. 

He says there’ll be further progress with vaccines in the coming weeks, “allowing us to lift some restrictions and continue our path out of this pandemic”. 

An interesting slide at today’s HSE briefing on Ireland’s progress.

It’s basically a range of “here’s the last time x figure was at this level”.

For example, the last time the number of weekly cases in over 80s (12) was this low was on 27 August 2020.

hse slides Source: HSE

Paul Reid is stressing the primary driver of the vaccine rollout will be age, as they work down through the age cohorts.

Michelle Hennessy reports: “This suggests we won’t see a situation where people aged 50+ will be left waiting for J&J supplies to arrive, they’ll be given whatever vaccines we have at the time.”

Leo Varadkar has just tweeted that he’s “full of hope” today. 

The airports have obviously suffered hugely during the pandemic, and financial figures published by DAA today demonstrate that. 

It recorded a loss of €284 million last year as passenger numbers at Dublin Airport and Cork Airport declined by 78%.

Passenger numbers were back at 1994 levels.

More from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly here pushing the walk-in test centres. 

He makes the point that they’re picking up a good number of asymptomatic people and therefore reducing the chance of them spreading Covid further in the community.

Another slide from the HSE here.

This time is shows the percentage of those across particular age groups vaccinated. As you’d expect, most people vaccinated so far are in the older age cohorts.

hse slide 1 Source: HSE

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has been taking Leader’s Questions in the Dáil to start the afternoon before the Cabinet meeting later.

He’s said that pubs that will only be able trade outdoors for a period will still be available to avail of the CRSS scheme as they’ll still be constrained in their ability to trade. 

Varadkar also says we’re “many months away” from opening up Ireland to international tourism again. 

FILE PHOTO HSE weekly update 019 HSE CEO Paul Reid and Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer Source: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

During the briefing today, HSE CEO Paul Reid urged people to remain wary of the virus no matter what restrictions are eased in the coming weeks.

He said: “We are still dealing with a virus that is highly transmissible.

“It’s still at a level that it’s highly transmitting in the community.

“It’s at a level as society begins to open up, it still has to be fully understood about the risks and the dangers that it can cause to people of all ages

“Whatever decisions are announced tonight, it’s really important that people take the virus seriously.

“We all know how quickly this can turn and impact massively on the health system in a very short space of time.”

HSE boss Paul Reid is speaking to Bryan Dobson on RTÉ’s News at One now

He said that there’s good indicators for the health service that put us in a “good place” to begin easing restrictions. 

“Sustained lockdowns are not good for the health service, either,” he said. “There’s enough indications to give us confidence and put a spring in people’s step today.”

He said 28.2% of the adult population has received a first dose and 11% are fully vaccinated. 

“We are seeing a momentum now [with vaccinations],” he said. 

Reid is asked about the 82% target by end of June. 

He says that quarter 1 was characterised by frustration but adds we have four approved vaccines now.

Indications of supply are “really strong” in late May heading into June, Reid says. 

He says the HSE is committed to meeting the volumes of supply that are coming. 

“We will mobilise our resourcing through all those vaccination channels to meet the supplies that are coming in,” he says. “Everybody in the HSE wants these administered as quickly as possible.”

Reid says the HSE is examining advice from NIAC and says the revised 27th version of the vaccine rollout plan will be ready early next week. 

The plan will be based on sequencing and progressing down through the ages. 

“We don’t want to have a situation where we have vaccines left but not administered,” he says.

On schools, Reid says good progress is being made and that mixing in school is in a “controlled environment”. He says if a child has symptoms, parents shouldn’t send them to school.

He finishes with the message “let’s keep it going”. 

We’re expecting Cabinet to kick off at around 2.30pm.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Alan Kelly has been telling the Dáil that a “huge number” of people within the 60 to 69 age cohort haven’t booked a vaccine appointment yet.

He said: ““I am concerned that 220,000 people in the 60 to 69 group haven’t registered.

“How are we going to ensure that they do register for vaccines? That’s a huge number.

“There is obviously a quantity of people who are not going to register for some reason.

“We need to do something about it.”

And that’s me for now. I leave you in the capable hands of Adam Daly for the next while. 

All yours, Adam!

Thanks, Sean!

Our political correspondent Christina Finn is outside government buildings now with Cabinet kicking off in the new few minutes. 

You can follow her below for all the action. 

Ministers were snapped arriving at Government Buildings ahead of the Cabinet meeting, looking pretty happy. 

Cabinet arrivals 002

Cabinet arrivals 006 Source: Leah Farrell

Cabinet arrivals 007 Source: Leah Farrell

Yes, Varadkar is wearing a face mask here but he was quite upbeat when talking about today’s announcement during Leaders’ Questions, saying it was a “day of hope”. 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly arriving now, he tells reporters that he’ll remain nervous over the next month as NPHET says June’s easing is contingent on things staying stable through May. 

Minister Donnelly said that if the measures are passed by Cabinet, they are going to bring “much-needed relief” to a lot of people around the country.

“It’s been a tough year but we’ll take our good days, and I think for our country this is a good day.”

He said the seven-day incidence rate has gone up by a quarter so he’s asking people not to go beyond the measures announced today. 

Michelle Hennessy taking over the liveblog here, as we wait for Cabinet members to finish their meeting and confirm the details. 

We’re expecting a press conference at around 5.30 or 6pm, though sometimes they like to keep us waiting…

Hearing now that the Cabinet meeting has concluded, after a short hour and a half. Plans for reopening in May and June have been agreed:

We’re not expecting any surprises from the Taoiseach this evening, so the announcement it likely to be as reported earlier by our political correspondent Christina Finn.

The plan is to lift the inter-county travel ban on 10 May, with hairdressers and barbers being allowed to reopen on that same day, she said. Click-and-collect will also return. 

Three households will be able to meet up outside from that date. 

Places of worship will be able to have 50 attendees at normal services, as well as funerals and weddings. However only six people will be able to attend a wedding reception indoors and 15 outdoors. 

While we’re waiting for that address from the Taoiseach at 6pm, let’s talk about vaccines.

Just over 28% of the adult population have received a first dose and 11.1% have had two doses and are fully vaccinated.

Next week the vaccine target is 220,000 to 240,000 doses and the HSE is expecting to open up registration to those aged 50-59 soon. 

We had some fresh guidance from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) this week, which means the HSE has to change around its plans again. Earlier CEO Paul Reid said this will be version 27 of the HSE’s vaccine plan. 

Now the health service has to consider how to manage an earlier-than-planned rollout to pregnant women, as well as the utilisation of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson jab, which is to be used for those aged over 50, along with the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

We’re expecting to get the full detail of Version 27 of the HSE’s plan early next week. But in the meantime, if you have questions about what the NIAC advice will mean for you, send them to answers@thejournal.ie.

Myself and my colleague Órla Ryan will have another one of our Reader Q&A articles this weekend, with everything we know so far. 

The Taoiseach hasn’t officially announced the details of reopening plans for May and June, but everyone already knows what he’s planning to say, so the reaction is already coming in.

The Irish Hairdressers Federation has welcomed the news that the sector will be able to re-open from 10 May. 

“Hairdressing is extremely important to local communities and local economies, and many of our customers have been suffering badly since December. We are all looking forward to welcoming them back on May 10th,” the federation said in a statement.

“Our focus now is on reopening the sector safely and responsibly, working with expert advisers and engaging with Government. We have extensive health and safety guidelines in place, and we will be working with staff to ensure they are ready for reopening.”

This just breaking, an alternative reopening plan is on the table:

We’re particularly excited about being able to see our extended families when inter-planetary travel resumes for all, hopefully in June.

The Taoiseach will address the nation in just over 20 minutes. Do we think the sun will stay out or will we have a repeat of the doomsday hailstones from earlier?

We have the latest figures from the Department of Health: 474 new cases of Covid-19 and three additional deaths. 

  • 239 are men / 232 are women;
  • 71% are under 45 years of age;
  • The median age is 32 years old;
  • 167 in Dublin, 39 in Kildare, 37 in Cork, 36 in Donegal, 29 in Meath and the remaining 166 cases are spread across all other counties.

Back at Government Buildings, our political correspondent Christina Finn is waiting to grill the Taoiseach on the re-opening plans:

The Taoiseach speaking now, he says the government now believes it is safe to start to reopen society.

You can watch here, if you’re not already.

This next phase will begin on 10 May, he says. when a series of “important and very welcome freedoms” will be restored.

“These include the resumption of inter-county travel. Click-and-collect services and retail by appointment can begin at all non-essential retail outlets with full reopening on the 17th of May.

Galleries, museums and other cultural attractions can reopen and libraries can reopen again, religious services can resume with a limit of 50 people attending and we can increase the numbers of people able to meet outdoors for social purposes, including in private gardens to a maximum of either three households, or a group of six people.

“Small organised outdoor gatherings will also be possible, with a maximum attendance of 15 people, while outdoor training for adults can also recommence in pods of a maximum of 15 people.”

Martin adds that it is “with no small measure of personal relief” that he confirms that on the 10th of May hairdressing and other personal services will reopen by appointment, all across the country from 10 May.

The Taoiseach acknowledges there have been a number of challenges to the vaccination programme. However he says the HSE has shown flexibility and agility and despite those changes, 95% of all available vaccines are being administered within seven days.

He says those aged 50-59 will be invited to register for a vaccine next week.

Martin says he knows it has been “a very tough and unprecedented year” in so many ways, but people have “done everything that has been asked of you”. 

The Taoiseach also confirmed that there will be a double payment of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme up to €5,000 per week available to businesses to help with reopening costs. 

“As disruptive, as lonely, as frustrating and as sad as the last year has been, we are getting through it and a degree or normality is returning, the company of friends and relations is returning, hope is returning,” Martin says.

He finishes by urging people to stick to the strategy.

“Stay safe and continue to mind each other.”

Okay, let’s recap. Here’s what was just announced:

10 May

  • Inter-county travel
  • Hairdressers, barbers, salons open
  • Click-and-collect shopping open
  • Three household meetings outside
  • Three vaccinated households meeting inside
  • One vaccinated household meeting one non-vaccinated household indoors
  • In-person house viewings/driving tests
  • 50 people at religious services, including weddings and funerals
  • Indoor wedding parties still capped at six, 15 allowed for outdoor parties
  • Galleries, museums and libraries open

17 May

  • All non-essential retail stores open

June

  • Hotels and B&Bs open from 2 June
  • Pubs and restaurants open for outdoor service from 7 June
  • Gyms and swimming pools open from 7 June

Some more detail on the ‘vaccine bonus’, with indoor visits permitted – without masks or social distancing – for those who are vaccinated:

From 10 May

  • fully vaccinated people can meet indoors with other fully vaccinated people as long as there are no more than three households present;
  • fully vaccinated people can meet indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household, provided that they are not at risk of severe illness.

This applies to:

  • persons who have received AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) – four weeks after dose 1;
  • persons who have received Janssen/Johnson & Johnson – two weeks after dose 1 (only dose);
  • persons who have received Pfizer – one week after dose 2;
  • persons who have received Moderna – two weeks after dose 2;
  • persons who have had a confirmed Covid-19 infection in the previous six months.

It will be welcome news for the 50-69-year-olds that they will not have to wait until after their second AstraZeneca dose – 12 weeks after the first dose – until they can meet indoors with loved ones. 

So, what happens beyond 7 June – particularly after we (hopefully) reach the 80% of the adult population target?

The government has said a number of high-risk activities will be considered over the coming period for later in the year, including:

  • indoor hospitality (restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos);
  • indoor team/group sports including matches, training and exercise classes;
  • mass gatherings/events (including spectators) indoors and outdoors;
  • international travel.

But maybe don’t get too excited about those yet, it’s not clear how much “later in the year” they mean. 

The government press conference has just started. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar sticking to the “hope” theme. 

He says hundreds of thousands of people will be able to return to work and we’ll be able to see friends and relatives again.

However he acknowledges the news is not so good for those in sectors such as hospitality and the arts, who will have to wait longer for their time to reopen.

Varadkar says he has a sense of deja vú, that it feels a bit like the reopening of May and June of last year, which went well at the start. He says things started to deteriorate in the autumn, but the difference this time is vaccines. 

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow,” is his hopeful quote for the evening.

Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media says Fáilte Ireland will work with the hospitality sector to ensure strict compliance to public health measures. 

She has also said the government will run a series of indoor and outdoor pilot events to assess the feasibility of larger organised events. 

The Taoiseach said there’s no specific benchmark around a particular number of Covid-19 cases that would be acceptable and would continue to allow reopening as we move through the summer. 

He says the aim will continue to be keeping pressure on the virus. He says it will be a balance around getting a significant number of people vaccinated and “a tolerable threshold of cases” that do not translate into severe illness or deaths.

 

When asked by our political correspondent where the five levels have gone, or which level we’re at from 10 May if they’re still going to be used, the Taoiseach says this could probably be described as “Level 3+”. 

There you go.

Minister Catherine Martin confirms ‘wet pubs’ won’t have a 15 customer limit when they reopen for outdoor service, but it will be table service only, so no ordering at the bar. She said other details such as opening hour restrictions are yet to be decided. 

Mandatory Hotel Quarantine is to be formally reviewed at the end of May. 

In terms of holidays abroad, the Taoiseach says that will depend on a number of factors such as the situation with Covid in other countries.

Asked question on when nightclubs might reopen, the Taoiseach responds:

“I don’t think I’ll make it to Coppers anytime soon.”

Oh, the Tánaiste has chipped in on nightclubs, he points out that ”Coppers has a large outdoor area and a nice balcony”. There’s hope yet, lads!

The Taoiseach also downplayed the idea of using a vaccine pass system domestically to access certain services, as is being trialled in some other countries. He notes that there have been concerns expressed elsewhere about human rights and civil liberties. 

The press conference is continuing but this seems like a good point to bow out. We’ll have more coverage on the site, so stick with us if you want further details on the reopening plans. 

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