Irish government set to approve move to phase two of lockdown exit
The Irish Government is set to approve the next phase of the country's road map out of coronavirus lockdown later on Friday.
The cabinet is meeting this morning to formally consider advice from experts on the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on whether phase two can begin on Monday as scheduled.
Ministers also met in Dublin on Thursday night to discuss lockdown relaxations and, afterwards, Health Minister Simon Harris said all the indicators looked "very good" for a move out of phase one.
Mr Harris said along with the steps outlined for phase two in the road map document, he also anticipated some further relaxations in regard to children and older people.
In the original road map, phase two would see some workplaces and small retail outlets reopen; the distance restriction on exercise extended from 5km to 20km; and people allowed to visit the homes of those cocooning, as long as PPE and social distancing are used.
Up to four people would also be allowed visit other households, while sports teams could resume non-contact training in small groups.
On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government had made some proposals to the NPHET on potentially fast-tracking some measures.
Mr Varadkar said ministers were suggesting moving steps originally planned for later phases in the plan to earlier stages.
His comments in the Dail raised the prospect of some additional relaxations being permitted on Monday beyond those initially planned for.
That could pave the way for some larger retailers to open.
Also addressing the Dail, Mr Harris said the transmission rate of Covid-19 – the R number – had risen slightly since phase one of lockdown exit began three weeks ago, but not significantly.
The R0 – the number of people an infected person infects – now stands at between 0.4 and 0.7
The minister said the virus was still being well suppressed.
Later, after the cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle had concluded, Mr Harris said:
"I think it's fair to say all the indicators look very good.
"Tomorrow the Government will formally consider the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, and formally make a decision on whether to proceed, but all the signs are looking good in that regard."
He said the road map was always meant to be a "living document" that could be changed depending on the state of the virus in the country.
"Both the Taoiseach and I have always said it is preferable to have a slow and steady plan that you can speed up if it's safe to do so, rather than a plan that looks fast on paper, but has to be slowed down," he said.
"And I think we're seeing the benefit of having that slow and steady plan."
Mr Harris said he did not envisage a change to the current two-metre social-distancing guidance.
He did indicate that the stay at home message may change to "stay local" in phase two.
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,664 on Thursday, after a further five deaths were announced.
There were 38 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the total since the outbreak began to 25,142.