DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will begin the partial and gradual reopening of its economy as planned from Monday, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday, calling for increased discipline from the public if a further relaxation is to be triggered in three weeks’ time.
The government also advised people for the first time to wear face coverings when either using busy public transport or when in enclosed indoor public areas such as shops.
Ireland introduced stay-at-home restrictions at the end of March, shutting all but essential services such as supermarkets and petrol stations to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and its reopening plan is one of the most conservative in Europe.
“As the restrictions ease and we come into contact with more people, the opportunity for the virus to spread increases. So, self-discipline and personal responsibility will become more important, not less,” Varadkar told a news conference.
“In three weeks’ time, I fervently hope to be here to announce that we will move to Phase 2. Nothing is guaranteed. The only thing that is inevitable is the spread of the virus unless we push it back every day.”
Building sites, garden centres and repair shops are among the limited group allowed to resume operations in the first of five three-week phases. People will also be permitted to meet in non-household groups of four outdoors, and play golf or tennis.
The government said visits to such stores should be limited to essential supplies, with retailers encouraged to continue to provide online services to minimise footfall,
Other businesses such as restaurants must wait until the end of June to open their doors again, with hotels to follow in July, pubs in August and schools in September in the roadmap Varadkar’s caretaker government laid out on May 1.
Since then, the number of new daily cases has roughly halved to as low as 107 this week, and the number of people infected by someone who has tested positive - the so-called “reproduction rate” - has fallen to 0.4-0.6, well below the key threshold of 1.0.
The number of confirmed cases among Ireland’s 4.9 million population stood at 23,827 on Thursday, with 1,506 deaths.
The damage to the economy has been swift and severe, with the unemployment rate, including those receiving emergency COVID-19-related jobless benefits, shooting up to 28.2% from 4.8% in two months and the state supporting around half of the labour force.
Highlighting the difficulty that workers such as builders may face, there have been 10 clusters of two or more coronavirus cases in meat plants, which have remained open, with close to 600 cases, health officials have said.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kevin Liffey