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Cabinet set to approve easing of restrictions, but homeware stores not permitted to open

Hardware stores, garden centres, farmers’ markets, bicycle shops and garages are due to open Monday.

Health Minister Simon Harris has confirmed that face masks will not be mandatory.
Health Minister Simon Harris has confirmed that face masks will not be mandatory.
Image: LEAH FARRELL; RollingNews.ie

CABINET IS EXPECTED to sign off today on the first phase of easing the Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking to reporters before Cabinet today, Health Minister Simon Harris said regardless of what decision is made today about lifting restrictions, some things such as social distancing are going to have to remain a consistent part of our lives. 

Asked if any of the Phase One measures could be delayed, or others in later phases brought forward, Harris said he would not prejudge what Cabinet might agree today but said the roadmap was designed so that only the safest measures will be undertaken first.

Phase One permits the reopening of hardware stores, garden centres, farmers’ markets, bicycle shops and motor garages, electrical and IT stores, as well as opticians.

While homeware stores were on the list of shops that could reopen, it is understood that they will not be able to resume business on Monday.

Construction workers and gardeners are also set to be able to return to work on Monday.

As part of Phase One, people are advised to continue to stay at home, but they can travel up to 5km from their home to exercise.

Outdoor spaces and tourism sites can reopen, and some non-contact sports can resume, such as golf and tennis. 

Up to four people who do not live in the same household will be allowed to meet up outdoors from Monday, as long as they maintain a two-metre distance.

Harris said today the trajectory of the virus is going downwards, and that the latest ICU numbers today show there are 59 people in intensive care.

When the first lockdown restrictions were introduced there were 70 people in care. 

The minister said the “downward trajectory is encouraging”.

Harris also urged moderation for whatever new measures are approved today, saying that just because garden centres are re-opening people should not rush out to shop. He said that while people are allowed to meet in small groups outdoors, that doesn’t mean everyone should immediately do so at once. 

With increased movement comes increased risk the virus will spread, he said.

Earlier openings

The minister also appeared to pour cold water on hopes of some businesses opening sooner than is set out in phased roadmap.

Previously the government said it would engage with sectors if they felt they could open sooner, with social distancing, ahead of the phase they are scheduled to reopen.

“There is a reason our plan is slow and gradual and there is a reason the plan is phased in the way that it is, and it is because it is the best public health advice available to us as to what might be safe to do at a certain point in time.

“And we have tried to lay out the plan so that the things that can commence first are the least risky,” he said.

He said allowing some places to open to sooner could cause the plan to collapse.

When asked if people might be able to move beyond the 5km in order to travel to their local club to play non-contact sports, the minister said the government will consider all of these issues.

The 5km rationale is that the further people travel from home, the more risk there is of the virus spreading, he said.

“I would be nervous about moving too far beyond that advice,” he said.

Harris said he would like to get through one phase “as is” and “do our best with that phase” before making any determinations on future phases.

The minister spoke about submissions that have been made by some businesses who are saying “can I open quicker? Can I get back to doing this quicker?”.

“There is a reason why the answer is no. The answer is that if we move too fast the plan will collapse, people will get sick and more people will die… we want to try and figure out a way we can live alongside the virus… we are going to have to test and try things that are the least risky,” he said. 

Harris said it is human nature to try and jump two or three phases ahead.

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“But we would have to have a crystal ball to answer that question. What we do know is the virus is in a better place now than it was and what the government has to decide is it now a safe time to move on to Phase One, but then we have to monitor that before we can move on,” he said.

Face coverings

On the issue of face coverings, Harris said “it is not going to be mandatory to wear a face mask”.

He said there could be some circumstances where there could be “some benefits” to wearing a face covering such as indoor spaces where you can’t socially distance, and public transport.

If the government does reach a decision on face coverings today, the minister said a public awareness campaign will be launched on how people wear them and even how someone can make one.

An announcement on moving to Phase One will be made by the Taoiseach later this afternoon.

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