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Another two weeks of lockdown is now on cards after May 5

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People wearing masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on King Street South in Dublin

People wearing masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on King Street South in Dublin

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

People wearing masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on King Street South in Dublin

The national lockdown will be extended for another two weeks for the vast majority of people when the current quarantine period ends after the bank holiday weekend.

The Government will announce the extension on Friday, while also outlining a roadmap for lifting social distancing restrictions over the coming months.

Working restrictions are only expected to be lifted on May 5 for those who work outdoors, such as construction workers, gardeners and landscapers.

Over-70s who have been asked to cocoon will be told they can exercise once a day as long as they take social distancing precautions.

Considering

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is still considering whether the non-essential travel ban can be extended beyond 2km.

The Nphet is meeting tomorrow morning and on Friday to discuss the step-by-step plan for easing social distancing rules over the coming months.

On Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris will announce details of the plan to lift restrictions in phases.

It is understood they will say that to move between the phases key targets on limiting the spread of the virus will have to be achieved first.

The first phase will see minimal changes to lockdown rules but, if targets are met, the second stage will see more people get back to work and travel restrictions will be eased.

In the second phase, it is expected employees who can safely maintain a two-metre distance from colleagues will be allowed to return to work.

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An empty Liffey Valley Shopping Centre car park yesterday afternoon due to virus lockdown

An empty Liffey Valley Shopping Centre car park yesterday afternoon due to virus lockdown

Colin Keegan

An empty Liffey Valley Shopping Centre car park yesterday afternoon due to virus lockdown

This could involve fast-food chains reopening - but only for takeaway service.

In early June, the third phase could see people who have low levels of interaction with colleagues return to work.

People who can work remotely may be asked to continue to do so until September.

There is significant concern in the Government and the Nphet that once the restrictions are lifted there will be a second wave of Covid-19 cases.

The capacity of intensive care units to handle a surge in patients presenting with the virus is also a key concern.

However, this is not an issue at present.

Yesterday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said his team has to consider how the virus is spreading before it can recommend lifting restrictions.

"We have always made it clear that there are certain things that we need to be satisfied with prior to recommending any change in current restrictions," Dr Holohan said.

"The most important one is that the incidence rate of the virus needs to be as low as possible in terms of its transmission in the community and within community and residential settings.

"In addition, the impact of the disease on rates of mortality and hospitalisations, including admissions to intensive care units, also needs to be at a very low level."

Public response to the garda operation encouraging people to comply with the national travel restrictions will also be a key factor in determining the Government's decision on whether to relax the Covid-19 emergency measures.

Operation Fanacht swung into action from 7am today and will be maintained for a week until the end of the May bank holiday weekend next Monday, May 4.

Underlining the importance of the public's reaction to the measures, the Deputy Garda Commissioner in charge of policing and security, John Twomey, said yesterday: "This is a critical week for the country. If we all work together, we can help save the lives of our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues."

Gardai have studied the patterns that emerged from the last large-scale roads operation, which ran from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, and say they have learned some lessons from it.

Evidence

The results of that analysis influenced the decision to extend the timeframe of Fanacht this time, from five to seven days, after anecdotal evidence at Easter indicated some motorists had taken to the roads before Fanacht was launched.

Gardai will again man around 150 permanent checkpoints on the motorways and main arterial routes out of the cities and major towns.

A further 500 mobile checkpoints on secondary roads will be set up daily, totalling 3,500 over the week. Foot and mobile patrols will be on duty at popular tourist attractions, parks, lakes, other beauty spots.

Meanwhile, the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin is to provide a drive-through testing service for Dublin Fire Brigade staff members.