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Workplaces 'will be punished' for social distancing breaches

Calls to allow the cocooned over-70s to go out for daily walk

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Paula McCadden receives shopping from Garda Louise O’Sullivan.

Paula McCadden receives shopping from Garda Louise O’Sullivan.

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Paula McCadden receives shopping from Garda Louise O’Sullivan.

Workplaces will be closed down for breaches of social distancing rules under plans to reopen the economy being considered by the Government.

With Taoiseach Leo Varadkar set to unveil the country's Covid-19 exit strategy, it has emerged the State will police businesses to ensure they are not putting customers or employees at risk of infection.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will be given new powers to inspect and shut down workplaces if they do not comply with soon-to-be-published guidelines for reopening businesses after the lockdown.

Gradually

Business Minister Heather Humphreys is expected to tell the watchdog that recently enacted emergency legislation can be used to close down businesses on public health grounds.

It comes after Mr Varadkar said restrictions would be lifted gradually in two to four-week intervals over the coming months.

However, the Taoiseach is today expected to announce a two-week extension of the national lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Government's road map for exiting the lockdown is not expected to start for another two weeks - most likely the week beginning May 18. There were doubts last night whether the Taoiseach will announce any relaxing on cocooning regulations for the over-70s.

Yesterday, chief medical officer Tony Holohan, who will decide when the lockdown ends, came under pressure from cabinet ministers to ease the rules for older people.

During a teleconference with Mr Holohan, ministers insisted older people should be allowed to leave their homes when the current lockdown period ends next week.

Irish geriatricians are understood to have been consulted by the HSE and a majority of these specialists who care for older people are in favour of advising over-70s who have been cocooning that they can go for a daily walk.

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Probationer Garda Anna Szczepan leaving SuperValu in Finglas with shopping for someone who is cocooning

Probationer Garda Anna Szczepan leaving SuperValu in Finglas with shopping for someone who is cocooning

PA

Probationer Garda Anna Szczepan leaving SuperValu in Finglas with shopping for someone who is cocooning

The views are expected to be fed into today's crunch meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team, which will consider if there should be any relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

It is understood experts have urged that the physical and mental health benefits would outweigh the risk of a walk and say safeguards could be put in place.

Dr Rose Anne Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin and director of the new Mercer's Institute for Successful Ageing, said yesterday she was in favour of recommending that over-70s could be advised to go for a daily walk.

"It is not a mandatory regulation but very strong advice at the moment is not to go out for a walk," she said.

"I strongly believe people need physical activity. There is no doubt about that.

"We decondition very rapidly at a certain age.

"It means our muscles get weaker and we are more prone to frailty. So it is very bad not to be getting regular physical activity. The most common form of activity for adults is walking."

Dr Kenny pointed out it was good for heart health and mental health. People have taken the recommendation very seriously - by and large they have not been going out.

"I don't see that as being good for health," she added.

She suggested there be a dedicated period of the day when people who are asked to cocoon can safely go out and that this could between noon and 2pm.

There needs to be a window to allow for them feeling safe to go out, Dr Kenny said.

"That is the time cocooners know they are safe because that is the time others should be asked to stay in," she added.

She said she did not like language like "letting them out".

The expert also pointed to the problems of vitamin D deficiency, which can increase as people get older.

Weakness

"There is a strong association between vitamin D deficiency and muscle weakness and bone weakness," she said.

"There is also emerging evidence that there is an association with viral infections, particularly of the coronavirus family. Some intensive care units are giving vitamin D to patients who are admitted with the most severe consequences of Covic-19."

She said that we get "vitamin D mostly from sunlight or from supplements. If people don't spend time outside, vitamin D deficiency is likely to become more common".

Asked about face masks or coverings for over-70s, she said: "Some experts recommend this but there are different schools of thought and it has not been recommended yet."