Public health guidance in the hospitality sector on physical distancing will be reviewed over the next week or two, the Health Minister has said.
Simon Harris said that while NPHET guidance remains that people should keep two metres from one another, this may not be possible in some settings, such as in the hospitality sector.
The issue will be reviewed by NPHET over the next week to two weeks, Mr Harris said, but he said the decision will be led by public health advice, not lobbying. “We need to do this in a public health led way, not by ‘he who shouts loudest'."
A number of cabinet ministers have asked that the guidance be reduced to either one and a half or one metre, a move which restaurants have described as being a "game-changer" for their businesses.
Mr Harris told RTE radio he is happy with the pace at which the country is reopening as Ireland enters what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called "Phase 2 plus" today.
"What looks slow today, looks prudent in a few weeks. We are showing that we are willing to adapt. We are looking at the remaining phases and how best to sequence. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon, we have to plan with caution. We may be able to get the summer back.”
The Minister defended the government’s timing on the reopening of schools saying the safety of children has been a priority, adding that creches can also only open when it is safe to do so.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys also confirmed that there is likely to be some relaxation of the two-metre rule in the coming weeks, particularly for services restricted by the social distancing rule.
She said Failte Ireland is working with the HSE and services sector to develop protocols, which are expected to be published on Tuesday. Restaurants, businesses and pubs among others are awaiting these for guidance on how to reopen their doors.
“As part of their work, they are looking at the implementation of the two-metre rule across the hospitality sector. Provided that figures go in the right direction and the transmission rate remains low, it might be that in certain spaces it won't be necessary to strictly apply the two-metre rule. This is all under review and we will await the outcome of those discussions.”
She acknowledged that Failte Ireland has produced figures which show the two-metre rule would cause difficulties for the sector.
Her remarks come after a report for her department confirmed that the two-metre rule could cost thousands of jobs to be lost because premises cannot function. It found that less than a quarter of people working in hotels, restaurants and pubs would return to work at the end of June if the Covid-19 rule is kept in the sector.
Ms Humphreys today announced that supports for businesses working online will increase to €20m, where grants of up to €5,000 can go to firms.
Speaking earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Harris appealed to the public to "cop on" and keep their close contacts to a minimum.
"Now is not the time to meet your first cousin once removed.”
He also said he is open to a "more nuanced approach” in regions from here on, noting that Sligo hasn't seen a new case of the virus in 23 days.