All the indicators look very good to allow Ireland to move to the next phase of lockdown exit, the health minister has said.
Simon Harris expressed confidence that the Government would be in a position to approve phase two of the road map to recovery when it meets on Friday to formally consider advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
Mr Harris said along with the steps outlined for phase two in the road map document, he also anticipated some further relaxations in regard to children and older people. If approved, phase two would be triggered on Monday.
The minister was commenting after a late night Cabinet meeting in Dublin Castle on Thursday.
“I think it’s fair to say all the indicators look very good,” Mr Harris said of the prospect of phase two being approved.
“Tomorrow the Government will formally consider the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, and formally make a decision on whether to proceed, but all the signs are looking good in that regard.”
Phase two would see some workplaces and small retail outlets reopen; the distance restriction on exercise extended from 5km to 20km; and people allowed to visit the homes of those cocooning, as long as PPE and social distancing are used.
Up to four people would also be allowed visit other households, while sports teams could resume non-contact training in small groups.
Earlier on Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government had made some proposals to the NPHET on potentially fast-tracking some measures.
Mr Varadkar said ministers were suggesting moving steps originally planned for later phases in the plan to earlier phases.
His comments in the Dail raise the prospect of some additional relaxations being permitted on Monday than those originally set out.
That could pave the way for some larger retailers to open.
On Thursday night, Mr Harris said the road map was always meant to be a “living document” that could be changed depending on the state of the virus in the country.
“Both the Taoiseach and I have always said it is preferable to have a slow and steady plan that you can speed up if it’s safe to do so, rather than a plan that looks fast on paper, but has to be slowed down,” he said.
“And I think we’re seeing the benefit of having that slow and steady plan.”
Mr Harris said he did not envisage a change to the current two-metre social-distancing guidance.
He did indicate that the stay at home message may change to “stay local” in phase two.
At the daily NPHET media briefing on Thursday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the road map was not a “rigid constitution” and rather a “broad framework”.
He said he was aware of the calls from various sectors of the economy and wider society to speed up the plan.
“I am aware obviously of those calls in various different sectors and we understand them,” he said.
“Our assessments of all these things are based on public health considerations.
“I’d like to think on an ongoing basis that we’re open to the possibility that where evidence and experience in other countries suggests we should make changes that we would make those changes.”
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,664 on Thursday, after a further five deaths were announced.
There were 38 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the total since the outbreak began to 25,142.
On Thursday, Mr Harris told the Dail the reproduction rate of the virus – the number of people an infected person infects – had risen slightly to between 0.4 to 0.7.
“This is a key metric and we need to keep the reproduction number below one,” he said.
“While we may have seen a slight increase in the R number, it still remains below one and we are still as a country suppressing the growth of the virus.”
Meanwhile, Dr Holohan expressed concern at the number of house parties that were happening during lockdown.
“House parties are being organised with abandon, it seems to me, as though we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic,” he said.
“So that’s a continuing cause for concern irrespective almost of the phase that we’re in.”
Earlier, Mr Varadkar said the Government hoped to bring some measures currently in phase four up to phase three and some steps in phase three up to phase two.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has accused the Government of “settling into a quite rigid” approach to deciding on changes and steps in the road map.
He also said that some people in communities are breaking restrictions.
“There is simply no doubt that compliance is fraying – and the biggest problem with this is that it is highly divisive,” he told the Dail.
When it comes to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment:— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) June 4, 2020
â¡ï¸ It will be extended for months, not weeks
â¡ï¸Nobody who was working full time before Covid will see their PUP cut
â¡ï¸If you were working part-time, weekly payments will still be more than you were earning before the Pandemic pic.twitter.com/CQck1qtLaL
In other developments on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said the pandemic unemployment payment will be extended for months, not weeks.
The 350-euro weekly payment was introduced in March and was due to expire in June.
The payment will be extended, but the amount paid to part-time workers will be cut.
The Taoiseach said he hoped non-essential air travel can resume between Ireland and other countries, but it would be weeks away.
Mr Varadkar said: “I hope that as the world returns to a new normality, we will see international air travel resume between air bridges with countries that have suppressed the virus to the similar extent as us.
“With air bridges we can lift travel requirements if people are flying to or from another country where the virus has been successfully suppressed.
“This however is some weeks away and it is far too soon for anyone to book their holiday, but summer is not yet lost.”
Dr Holohan said NPHET’s position remained that people should still not be planning holidays.
The CMO also said there were no plans to make facemasks on public transport in Ireland compulsory, following the move to do so in England.