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Leo warns of danger in store as rules are eased

  • Hardware shops and garden centres 'could face a frenzy'

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

PA

Leo Varadkar

There are fears that garden centres and hardware stores will face a frenzy of shoppers as Ireland takes the first significant steps out of its coronavirus lockdown.

It was confirmed last night that the first phase of easing the extraordinary restrictions on everyday life will begin on Monday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned that as lockdown is eased, the opportunity for the virus to spread will increase and that rolling back the restrictions could be reversed.

He also admitted that the Government was worried that people will descend on newly opened shops in "large numbers" or there may be bad practice in workplaces, adding: "In fact, it's likely that we will see those things."

Confusion

Some people expect the reopening will be marked by confusion as businesses struggle to decide if they fall into the categories that will be permitted to open after homeware stores were unexpectedly excluded from phase one of the roadmap for easing restrictions.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the public health advice was still that people should stay at home and that it's not the time to decide "to dickie up the house and buy a new pair of curtains".

Separately, concerns were raised in Cabinet and by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin about the continued 5km restriction on exercise.

Mr Varadkar said that the easing of restrictions was reason for hope but not a cause for celebration and warned there will be "bumps in the road" and the public will have to "keep our guard up".

From Monday, people will be allowed to meet outside in groups of four while maintaining social distancing, and go to garden centres and hardware stores.

Face coverings are also being recommended for use on public transport and in shops, but they are not mandatory.

Mr Varadkar said that progress in easing restrictions was "provisional and reversible", and added that washing hands, cough and sneeze etiquette and social distancing had to continue.

"Personal responsibility will become more important, not less," he said.

Mr Varadkar said coronavirus was an "inferno that is raging around the world".

"In Ireland, it is now a fire in retreat but it is not defeated. We must extinguish every spark," he added.

However, there was criticism last night over plans for which retail outlets will be allowed to reopen.

Flat-pack furniture giant Ikea had planned to open its doors but cancelled after homeware stores were excluded.

Harvey Norman last night said it would reopen all its stores but will only let customers into Government-approved sections.

There is unrest among some retailers that supermarkets are selling clothes along with other non-food items.

Mr Martin last night criticised the confusion over the reopening of hardware shops.

"It creates confusion and it also creates a basic discrimination," he said.

"There are some multiples - big, big businesses who cover all of those operations and will still be allowed to reopen, so from a competition point of view they have an advantage over the exclusively homeware shops.

"I think that's discriminatory in an unintended way, but those things need to be sorted out."

Business Minister Heather Humphreys sought to clarify the situation, saying that only hardware stores that have small homeware sections were being able to reopen.