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lifting lockdown Hopes raised for 'significant but slow' easing of Covid restrictions but pubs must wait

Donnelly says country in 'positive position' for lifting of restrictions

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Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

"SIGNIFICANT but slow" easing of the Covid-19 lockdown is set to happen over the coming two months, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.

Mr Donnelly said Ireland is ahead of even the most optimistic scenarios for the decline in Covid-19 case numbers.

This means the country is now in a "very positive position to talk about May, June, July and the easing of restrictions".

However, Mr Donnelly, who infuriated government colleagues in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael by his suggestions at the weekend of changing the vaccine roll-out to favour the 18 to 30 age group, refused to be drawn into speculation about what was opening first.

The age-change suggestion was instantly crushed by the Government, but only after it sowed public confusion and anger.

Asked about which conditions would be eased and in what order, Mr Donnelly declined to comment.

"Those are conversations that have yet to be had," he told RTÉ's This Week programme.

"What that means is we can look at the full list that was set out two or three weeks ago.

"It puts us in a very positive position for the conversation about May, June and July."

Mr Donnelly added that his contacts with the scientific experts in Nphet last week were the most positive in a long time.

He was speaking before yesterday's Covid-19 statistics were released, showing 269 new virus cases - a four-month low for any single day.

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Even though officials have said that weekend figures were sometimes distorted by report delays, they noted that other indicators, such as numbers in hospital and intensive care units, continued to be a cause for hope.

Mr Donnelly said that under consideration for the start of May was the full re-opening of "construction, non-essential retail, personal services, museums, libraries, religious services and so forth".

Stimulus

He said no decisions had yet been made for hospitality and outdoor pubs.

Another government source suggested outdoor dining and drinking was unlikely until mid-June, but said even that could not be banked upon.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has again promised a major stimulus plan for the hospitality sector to help it recover when restrictions are lifted.

He said the Government's National Economic Plan was being worked on by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath, and the catering aid package would be part of this.

He said the plan would focus on supporting the 180,000 people working in hotels, pubs and restaurants and across the hospitality sector.

"We've got to look at the medium term: how do we give substantive ballast or support to the hospitality and the entertainment sectors?" Mr Martin told the Business Post.

"They've suffered the most and they're going to need priming, they're going to need support beyond the emergence from the pandemic."

There may be better news for hairdressers and barbers and those awaiting a hairdo since Christmas.

These may be allowed to re-open, subject to certain conditions, from late next month.


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