This evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the largest easing of Covid-19 restrictions in 2021 so far. According to RTÉ News, ‘in announcing an easing of Covid-19 restrictions, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the strategy is working, with the national vaccination programme working well… Because of your hard work, we are now in a better place’.
Meanwhile, ‘Mr Martin said the Government has looked at various things in judging how to reopen safely, as well as the risks of moving too quickly… As part of these measures, inter-county travel can resume from 10th May, whilst hairdressers will open on the same day, along with libraries, museums and galleries and team sports training in pods of 15’. As well as that, up to 50 people will be allowed to attend religious services including weddings, funerals and masses. Despite this, ‘indoor weddings will remain capped at six guests and 15 for outdoor celebrations’.
Meanwhile, on 10 May also, three households can meet outdoors in gardens and a vaccinated household can meet an unvaccinated one indoors. ‘On 17th May, all shops will be able to reopen, and on 2nd June hotels and guesthouses will be open again… Outdoor hospitality, including restaurants and all pubs, will open on 7 June, along with gyms and swimming pools’. These measures, Micheál Martin said, will allow for 200,000 people to return to work.
He has also thanked the public for their efforts in allowing the reopening of society to take place. ‘As I look forward into July and beyond, I want to see all hospitality businesses doing what they do better than anyone else on earth… I want to see the return of artistic and cultural life," he said, "as well as students' return to campuses… He said to enable all of this to happen, people needed to stick to the plan which he said was a "gradual responsible reopening’. Subject to the situation remaining stable in May, 2nd of June will see hotels reopening, and from the 7th June, outdoor bars and restaurants can reopen, outdoor sports matches with no spectators, gyms and larger wedding receptions will resume. In addition, cinemas will also be reopened from the 7th of June.
‘From 7th June, outdoor dining in bars and restaurants can recommence, matches can recommence but not with spectators… Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can reopen on the same date for individual training… From 7th June, 25 guests can attend wedding receptions, indoor visits in private homes from one other household can begin again… Next week the online vaccine portal will open for those aged 50-59 years… Mr Martin said that almost all of the country's most vulnerable are protected… Already, he said, the rates of death, hospital admissions and infections in people who have been vaccinated have collapsed.
Moving into July and beyond, he hopes to see aviation, tourism and all hospitality businesses back at work, along with a return of artistic and cultural life… Government also hopes that students will be back on campus for the next academic term… Any business availing of CRSS, which can now reopen, can avail of double payments up to a maximum of €5,000 per week to aid with reopening’.
In summary, the lifting of these Covid-19 restrictions will be welcomed by many people. It appears, and is welcome, that the Government did not depart from the advice offered by the National Public Health Emergency Team on this occasion and listened to the expert advice. Since the implementation of Level 5 restrictions on New Year’s Day, which has meant that loved ones have not been able to visit each other, this has been the biggest lifting of restrictions. It allows many businesses, including hairdressers, to reopen on the 10th of May by appointment, as well as inter-county level being able to resume, alongside libraries, museums, galleries, and so on.
A household who is vaccinated will be able to meet a household who is unvaccinated which is also a welcome bonus for those who are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, many elderly people will welcome the allowance that up to 50 people can attend mass whilst retail can fully reopen from the 17th of May. Third level students will also welcome the hope that they will see a return to university campuses across the country when the academic term for most third level students begin in September, after the majority of these students have not seen their campus since March 2020.
It is particularly welcome that up to 200,000 people will return to work following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. However, the government must commit to maintaining and strengthening supports for businesses such as the CRSS as we continue to slowly come out of these Covid-19 restrictions. This day will be looked back on as a positive day as the vaccination rollout programme continues to ramp up with the opening up of the portal for 50-59 year olds to register for their Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.
Finally, the efforts of people across the country, cannot be forgotten, as acknowledged by the Taoiseach. Despite isolated protests in Cork and Dublin, the majority of the public in Ireland abided by the Covid-19 restrictions, despite a minority who threatened to interrupt this and there were no mass riots or protests, compared to other countries. The question is, did we lift these restrictions too early or did we find the right balance in lifting restrictions? This question shall be answered in the next few months.