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Varadkar spoke to NI leaders before pushing ahead with exit plan

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Talks: Leo Varadkar

Talks: Leo Varadkar

PA

Talks: Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar revealed he had spoken to Stormont's leaders before announcing an acceleration of the Irish Republic's lockdown exit plan.

The Taoiseach said phase two of the roadmap would be triggered on Monday as scheduled.

But he said a series of other measures, originally envisaged for later phases of the plan, would also be given the green light from next week.

The five-phase roadmap has also now been condensed into a four-phase plan, meaning the Republic will move out of lockdown at a faster pace than previously planned.

Mr Varadkar said: "I've always said we would accelerate the reopening our country but only if it was safe to do so.

"Thanks to your actions we have now reached that point.

"And with your help, we'll keep moving forward.

"So we all need to stick to what we've been doing right."

Mr Varadkar said he had informed the leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive about the plans before making them public.

First Minister Arlene Foster had previously complained that the Executive had not been contacted before the Taoiseach announced a series of measures in March taking the country into lockdown.

Mr Varadkar's move to ease restrictions came in a TV address yesterday afternoon.

From Monday, all retail outlets will reopen with staggered hours and the distance restriction on exercise has been extended from 5km to 20k, or any distance within a person's own county boundaries.

People will be allowed to visit the homes of those cocooning, as long as social distancing is observed.

Groups of up to six people will be able to interact with each other indoors or outdoors, as long as they keep two metres apart.

Groups of up to 15 will be able to meet for outdoor sporting activities and elite athletes can resume training.

Up to 25 people will be allowed to attend funerals of loved ones and public libraries will commence re-opening.

The Irish Government has also announced a series of additional measures for children and older people, with plans for phased reintroduction of visiting at nursing homes and permission for playgroups and summer camps to operate.

Playgrounds will reopen. Shops will also provide dedicated hours for those who are over 70 or in an at risk group.

Phase three is scheduled for June 29, when hotels and other tourism accommodation can reopen. All travel restrictions will also lift on that date. Pubs will also be able to reopen, but only if they are functioning as restaurants and serving food.

Phase four, which will contain all remaining measures in the roadmap, is planned for July 20.

Mr Varadkar said that hairdressers, barbers and nail bars will remain shut until the final phase.

"Everyone would really like to see them open as soon as possible but as of now that remain in phase four and that is for very good reason," he added.

The Taoiseach said restrictions on large gatherings would continue into the autumn.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said no date has been confirmed to resume non-essential air travel.

He added: "I would encourage people not to go booking flights just yet."

Yesterday the coronavirus death toll in the Irish Republic rose to 1,670 after a further seven deaths were announced.

Some 28 new confirmed cases were announced, bringing the total in the country since the outbreak began to 25,163.

Belfast Telegraph