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4th June 2020

Science Coronavirus: Would a new Irish government lift lockdown faster?

Science Coronavirus: Would a new Irish government lift lockdown faster?

Science

science Woman walks past a closed pub in DublinImage copyright
Reuters

Image caption

This image of Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, has been painted on a closed pub in Dublin

Hotels in the Republic of Ireland are currently due to reopen on 20 July, the same day as those in Northern Ireland, but hotel bars will remain closed.

Reopening hotels, subject to social distancing rules, is part of phase four of the Irish government’s five-stage plan to relax Covid-19 restrictions.

The plan was announced on 1 May.

It says hotels can reopen “initially on a limited occupancy basis (or number of people per square metre), and then increasing over time”.

Restaurants and cafes in the Republic of Ireland are currently due to reopen on 29 June as part of phase three of the recovery plan but “must comply with social distancing and strict cleaning protocols”.

This has led to a campaign from publicans whose premises also serve food to allow them to reopen ahead of their current schedule of 10 August in phase five.

If pubs open their doors again, so too would hotel bars.

So as things stand, while hotel restaurants are set to open on 20 July, their bars will only be allowed to open on 10 August.

Science Not fixed in stone

The Republic of Ireland held a general election in early February but the coronavirus outbreak took hold before a new government could be formed.

The current caretaker government has made it clear that its five-stage plan is not fixed in stone and may be brought forward or reversed, depending on the spread of the coronavirus.

As the talks on forming a new government – involving Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens and some Independents – near conclusion, there have been a number of straws in the wind that suggest a new coalition government might accelerate the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin, who is expected to be the next taoiseach (Irish prime minister) if there is an agreement, has indicated his reservations about many of the measures in the current government’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Micheál Martin has served in previous governments, including as health minister and foreign affairs minister

In the Dáil (Irish parliament) last week, he said there was “no remaining serious justification” for the current 5km (3-mile) travel restriction, except for essential journeys.

This is soon to be increased to 20km as part of phase two of the recovery plan, but Mr Martin said he could see no “scientific basis” for the restriction.

He also described as “arbitrary” some of the timings as to when different types of retail outlets and shops can reopen.

The Fianna Fáil leader also addressed the current two-metre social distancing rule at a time when many businesses would like to see it reduced to one metre.

“It has been acknowledged it is not required by the science; it has been helpful but it cannot be allowed to block Ireland restarting activity which is already underway elsewhere without a negative impact,” he said.

A new government with a comfortable Dáil majority would probably feel more relaxed about easing the lockdown measures at an accelerated pace, especially given the economic concerns about the impact of Covid-19.

And any such relaxation would inevitably have consequences for Northern Ireland.

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