Ireland will begin its journey back to normality after a further two weeks of the current coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions, Leo Varadkar has announced.
The majority of the lockdown measures will remain in place until 18 May, although two will ease in the coming days. From next Tuesday, a travel limit that has forced people to stay within 2km of home when exercising will be extended to 5km. Moreover, self-isolating over-70s will be advised they can leave home for a walk or drive.
In an address to the nation, the Taoiseach said in mid-May a phased easing of the remaining restrictions would begin:
So on the 18th of May, Ireland begins to reopen and begins that journey to a new normal
Five phase plan
The Taoiseach said there would be five stages, three weeks apart, with the fifth phase commencing on August 10 if everything goes to plan.
He said schools and colleges will reopen in September/October at the start of the new academic year. On 18 May, outdoor work, like construction and landscaping, will resume. Some retail outlets, like garden centres, hardware stores, repair shops will also reopen. Varadkar said some outdoor sporting and fitness activities in small groups would also be allowed from that date.
Many regular health services will resume operating and it will be possible to meet small groups of friends and family outdoors.
Not long from now, some summer night, we will see our friends again.
In later phases other workplaces, businesses, childcare, preschools, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas and gyms will reopen.
The plans were agreed by the cabinet after medical experts on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) provided advice to the government earlier on 1 May. The current lockdown period had been due to expire on Monday 4 May.
Varadkar said while thousands of lives had been saved, “we have not yet won this fight”. He added:
We need two more weeks of tight restrictions to weaken the virus further, so it doesn’t have the strength to make a comeback when we start to interact with each other once again.
The Taoiseach said while the first wave had been flattened the risk of a second wave was present. He said the country may need to return to tighter restrictions if the virus started to surge again. He also added that the cabinet will meet on 2 May to agree further actions to help businesses restart, reconnect and rehire staff who have been laid off or furloughed.
“Let’s finish what we started”
Varadkar spoke of the pain for families unable to properly grieve for all those who had lost their lives in recent weeks. He said Irish people had met the crisis with “remarkable courage and sense of solidarity”. He also urged people to “stay the course” and “continue the fight”:
While there is so much we do not know, tonight there is hope…
In the weeks ahead that hope will drive us forward as we plan to emerge safely from this crisis.
The total number of people who have died from coronavirus in Ireland rose to 1,265 as of 1 May. There have been 20,833 confirmed cases of the disease.
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