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Taoiseach to outline 'roadmap' to lifting restrictions today - here's what we know so far

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will outline the plan this evening.

The restrictions are not expected to be lifted today.
The restrictions are not expected to be lifted today.

THE ROADMAP FOR lifting Covid-19 restrictions is due to be outlined by the Taoiseach today – but the phased approach to lifting the restrictions is unlikely to kick in immediately. 

While there had been speculation that some of the measures might be eased today, including from Health Minister Simon Harris who made some optimistic comments last weekend, the expectation is that the public will be asked to continue with the restrictions, potentially for another two weeks.

However, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan indicated in a meeting with Cabinet ministers yesterday that the restrictions may need to be continued for a further three weeks.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet this morning to consider their recommendations for government about the current restrictions, which are due to expire on 5 May. 

Cabinet will meet at 3pm to discuss the recommendations and the plan to lift restrictions, with the Taoiseach expected to announce his decision afterwards at around 6pm.

The Taoiseach is also due to appear on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show tonight where he will further explain the current position. 

Any chance restrictions will be lifted?

No. The Chief Medical Officer and the Taoiseach have clearly flagged this week that the level of the virus is not low enough to lift the restrictions. 

At yesterday’s daily briefing, Dr Holohan said officials have seen further improvements over the course of this week but we “need to get down to a lower baseline”.

He said aside from the numbers that are being picked up in the sweep of nursing homes across the country, there are still 100 to 200 cases each day in the general population. 

There has been pressure placed on Leo Varadkar from opposition leaders, as well as those in his own Cabinet to give some ray of hope to people today.

Any adjustments expected to be announced today will be minimal. While people will be asked to continue to quarantine for possibly two weeks, there might be a slight easing to the 2km rule, possibly to 5km, said some sources.

Harris has said that any changes will be grounded in medical advice, but said yesterday the government is cognisant of the over-70s, who have been asked to cocoon since late last month.

There may well be some slight easing there, perhaps allowing older people leave their homes during a certain period each day, sources said. 

Holohan has also told ministers that he is sensitive to the wellbeing of older people.

“We understand the challenges that represents for individuals, people over the age of 70, people in vulnerable groups, who we’ve asked to cocoon at home, it’s a very difficult measure,” Dr Holohan said yesterday.

“We won’t have those measures in place for any longer than we think is necessary”.

The CMO said even though numbers in hospitals and in intensive care units are dropping, “they’re still big numbers”. 

“If we were to not take that into account if further spread of infection were to occur, we would get into difficulty sooner than we would if we had lower numbers from which to make our recommendations.

“We have over 100 people in ICU at the moment – that’s heading for 40 or 50% of the standing capacity that was in place in out intensive care units in the country before this began. That’s a sizeable number still.”

What about the plan for lifting restrictions? 

While Varadkar is expected to outline the phased lifting of the restrictions today, it is not expected that phase one will kick in right away.

The guide for how the country can return to normal life will be broken down into three phases and each phase will contain a number of stages.

The Taoiseach has said there will be two to four weeks between each phase bringing the step-by-step approach up to the end of August.

The Taoiseach outlined five criteria needed to lift the lockdown, and the capacity of testing is one of the key components. 

A pathway to reach the magic number of 100,000 tests per week has been set out.

The HSE aims to hit 12,000 tests per day by 5 May, and 15,000 tests per day by 18 May.

Therefore it is expected the exit strategy will not officially start until the week beginning Monday 18 May, at the earliest. 

Are there dates for each phase in the plan?

No. The plan is not expected to list the date for the start of each phase. 

It is understood the first phase will see construction sites reopen, with landscapers, maintenance workers and factory workers expected to be allowed return to work.

Hardware shops and garden centres are expected to reopen in the first phase.

Later phases could kick in early in June. Businesses, including restaurants and cafés, are set to be allowed to open as long as social distancing rules can be adhered to. 

Later in the summer, it is believed that people will be encouraged to holiday at home, with the travel restrictions due to be lifted. In terms of international travel, the Taoiseach said he would like to see airlines back operating in August. 

What if the virus numbers rise again?

The Taoiseach has said the phases can be modified if the country appears to be slipping back in terms of the virus level.

The five criteria he outlined, which need to be considered if restrictions are to be lifted, include: the progress of disease, healthcare capacity/resilience, testing and contact tracing, shielding at-risk groups and secondary morbidity and mortality.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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