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Small groups can meet together from Monday as lockdown eases

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An almost deserted O’Connell Street yesterday.

An almost deserted O’Connell Street yesterday.

An almost deserted O’Connell Street yesterday.

Groups of four people living within a 5km radius of each other will be permitted to meet outside once a day from Monday.

They will be required to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and remain two metres away from one another.

People will also be told not to take advantage of the easing of restrictions and must meet with small groups only once a day.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) agreed yesterday to move into phase one of the plan to reopen the country.

After the Cabinet signs off on the Nphet recommendation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will announce this afternoon the first significant easing of lockdown restrictions since the country was shut down.

One of the key changes to the rules will be the lifting of the ban on meeting people from outside households.

Small groups will also be allowed to play golf and tennis.

It is expected that outdoor workers, such as those involved in construction and landscaping, will be able to return to work next week while applying social-distancing measures.

The Government will stress that this is strictly limited to outside workers, and anyone working inside on construction sites will not be returning.

Opticians

Hardware stores, garden centres, farmers markets and other shops that are primarily outdoors are also due to reopen, according to the road map.

Also reopening will be homeware shops, opticians, garages, bicycle shops and stores that sell office products, electronic goods, IT and phones.

The Government will also announce new advice on wearing homemade face coverings on public transport and while going shopping.

The Taoiseach told the Dail yesterday he was "increasingly confident" he would be able to begin lifting restrictions on Monday as the rate of new infections and Covid-19 deaths has continued to drop.

"All things going to plan, phase one will begin on Monday, if and only if it is safe to do so," he said.

Mr Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris will outline between 3pm and 4pm today how restrictions will be lifted.

They will urge people to stay at home as much as possible, while also announcing limited scenarios in which they can meet friends and family or go shopping.

Workers will be urged to take significant precautions if returning to work.

Meanwhile, gardai will begin contingency planning later today for their role in what could potentially be a logistical nightmare in the implementation of phase one of lifting the Covid-19 lockdown.

They are awaiting specific instructions from the Government, spelling out in detail what the partial removal of restrictions will mean from midnight on Monday before completing their preparations.

The Government decision will result in thousands of additional people taking to the roads and streets as they return to work.

The huge increase in public movement will put pressure on existing garda checkpoint operations.

Officers do not yet know if they will be policing the big rise in numbers travelling on public transport to ensure that social-distancing measures are being observed.

The reopening of businesses such as garden centres and hardware stores also poses problems, unless it is specifically made clear what constitutes a big or small centre or store and whether the major retail outlets such as Woodies, B&Q and Home- store are covered by the regulations.

Ikea has already stated that it intends to reopen its doors next week.

Onus

It is not yet clear if the onus will be on gardai or the health and safety authorities to ensure people are wearing face masks, or what agency will police the measures such as social-distancing, relating to the reopening of other outlets covered in phase one.

"At the moment, we're sitting tight until we're briefed on the Government plan," a senior officer said last night.

"We don't know yet if the changes will involve new regulations being put in place or amendments to the existing ones.

"There are already grey areas in the current regulations. Does an ice cream van qualify as an essential service? Most people would probably take the view that it doesn't."

 

What’s allowed next week?

From Monday, phase one of easing lockdown restrictions will kick in and last for three weeks.

While the lockdown will still be in effect, we can do the following:

  • Up to four people from different households will be able to meet up outdoors while social distancing.
  • Unnecessary journeys will have to be avoided, but people will be able to exercise within 5km of their homes.
  • n Funeral restrictions will stay the same.
  • Schools and colleges will reopen for access for teachers to facilitate remote learning.
  • Some businesses will reopen and some workers will be able to go back to work, but employers will have responsibility to put together a plan to ensure strict social distancing is maintained in workplaces.
  • Outdoor workers, such as construction crews, gardeners and people working on allotments, will return to work while social distancing.
  • Garden centres, hardware shops and farmers markets will reopen. Opticians, car garages, bike repair shops, phone repair shops and electrical shops will also open.
  • Beaches, mountain walks and car parks will reopen.
  • Golf courses, tennis courts and pitches will reopen where social distancing can be maintained.
  • Commuters may have to use face coverings while travelling on public transport, while social distancing will also have to be maintained.