Phase one of roadmap ‘reason to hope, not a cause for celebration’

As the country enters phase one of its roadmap to reopening on Monday, there are warnings that face masks are not a “magic shield” from Covid-19 and that there will be teething problems.
Phase one of roadmap ‘reason to hope, not a cause for celebration’
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media about about the first phase of the Government’s roadmap for lifting restrictions following a Cabinet meeting yesterday. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

As the country enters phase one of its roadmap to reopening on Monday, there are warnings that face masks are not a “magic shield” from Covid-19 and that there will be teething problems.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to return to work and shops and outdoor amenities will re-open. Small gatherings will be allowed while a number of non-contact sports will also be permitted.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned that the burden of responsibility would now move to the public and that there would likely be “teething problems” in the opening days of phase one of the plan.

“This gives us reason to hope, but it is not a cause for celebration. We have a long way to go yet. There will be bumps in the road and we have to keep our guard up,” he said.

“There's a concern on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, that people may descend on garden centres and hardware stores in large numbers. That's what we don't want to see happen.”

If all goes well, he said, Ireland would enter a new phase of reopening every three weeks, with the next review set to take place on June 5.

Under changes taking effect on Monday:

  • *Small groups of up to 4 people can meet outside two metres apart
  • *Those who operate outdoors, such as construction workers and gardeners, can return to work
  • *Garden centres, farmers’ markets and hardware stores will reopen as well as opticians, motor and bicycle repair shops and phone repair outlets. Homeware shops will remain closed.
  • *Tennis courts and golf courses can reopen and small outdoor fitness classes can restart but you can't travel beyond 5km to join them
  • *Public amenities such as beaches and mountain walks will reopen.

Nonetheless, the government stressed, even as Covid-19 infection numbers continue to fall, people must still regularly wash hands, cough or sneeze into elbows and isolate if they are sick.

Face coverings or masks are advised when using busy public transport or in enclosed indoor areas, including shops.

But chief medical officer Tony Holohan said this should not be considered a panacea:

We can't regard face coverings as some kind of magic shield in relation to this disease. It is a supplement to the other measures that we are recommending.

Cabinet has also agreed that it will be mandatory to fill in registration forms at sea ports and airports to declare addresses for a person's 14-day self isolation period when they enter the country. Efforts are also ongoing to ensure Ireland and the UK's plans for easing restrictions are synchronised.

It also emerged that Cabinet has agreed that horse racing can restart on June 8. Races will take place behind closed doors and with stricter hygiene rules agreed by Horse Racing Ireland.

This follows concerns from horse owners and breeders and worries about 30,000 jobs in the sector. The Irish Examiner understands there was heavy lobbying to get an early restart date, including within Fine Gael, and even threats that owners would move horses to France and the UK.

Meanwhile, insurance cover and employee protection are some of the major headaches facing businesses as they get back to work, industry leaders and employment experts have warned.

Business groups such as the Irish SME Association (ISME) and the Alliance for Insurance Reform (AIR) have called for "crystal clear" advice from the Government as to what is required when it comes to protecting their employees and customers.

There has been emerging anecdotal evidence that business continuity cover, which is supposed to provide firms cover for when a major event stops them trading, is not being honoured, with insurers holding tough by claiming Covid-19 is not a valid claim.

A further 16 people with Covid-19 have died while there have also been an additional 129 cases of the virus, bringing the total to 23,956.

Mr Holohan also confirmed that EU authorities have issued an alert about 230 suspected cases of a new paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) linked to Covid-19.

He said there were seven children investigated here for a possible link.

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