Ireland speeds up cautious reopening of economy

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will accelerate the cautious reopening of its economy, with the fourth and final phase of easing restrictions to start on July 20, three weeks earlier than scheduled, acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Prime Minister Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks during a news conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland March 24, 2020. Steve Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS

Facing growing pressure from business to accelerate one of Europe’s most conservative reopening plans, Varadkar also confirmed that Ireland would move to phase two next week.

Under the revised schedule, large retailers will be allowed to resume trading from Monday, shopping malls from June 15 and hotels by the end of the month, all ahead of schedule. The final phase, which includes the reopening of pubs that do not serve food, will begin on July 20 instead of Aug. 10.

“Why is now the right time? Because the data is going in the right direction,” Varadkar told a news conference, referring to consistent falls in the number of cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

Ireland has reported 1,664 deaths related to 25,000 cases of COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

By skipping the queue, hotels join restaurants in reopening from June 29, as Varadkar made a pitch for people to support the ailing domestic tourism sector by “exploring our country, as if for the first time”.

Anyone entering Ireland is required to self-isolate for 14 days and the government’s advice against non-essential overseas travel will remain in place for at least a number of weeks, Varadkar has said.

Ireland’s chief medical officer promised to develop specific guidance on social distancing for the hospitality sector in coming days. Customers must currently remain two metres apart.

Data on Friday showed the domestic economy grew at a subdued pace in the first quarter ahead of what Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe expected to be an “unprecedented contraction” from April to June.

However, he said up-to-date data points to a gradual recovery. Donohoe extended a wage subsidy scheme till the end of August to help businesses reopen.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gareth Jones