Ireland takes small first step in coronavirus escape plan

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland on Friday announced the first small steps to easing restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus and laid out a roadmap for a gradual re-opening of the economy from May 18 if the virus can be kept under control.

Ireland instructed people to stay inside almost six weeks ago, only allowing those under 70 to leave their homes where their work is deemed essential, to shop for groceries or for brief exercise. The severe restrictions shut down all but essential operations.

Acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar retained those measures but told “cocooning” over 70s that they could leave their homes to go for a walk or a drive from Tuesday and extended the travel limit to exercise to 5 kilometres from 2 kilometres.

A return to something approaching economic normality will commence on May 18 with a plan to reopen the economy in five three-week stages with the final stage set for Aug 18. If the virus worsens, the economy may go back a phase, Varadkar said.

“While there is still so much that we don’t know, tonight there is hope. In the weeks ahead that hope will drive us forward as we plan to emerge safely from this crisis,” Varadkar said in a televised address, as Ireland joined other European countries in a mapping a way out of the crisis.

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Outdoor work, such as construction, will resume on May 18 along with the reopening of some retailers like garden centres and hardware stores. Some sports and outdoor meetings with friends and family in small groups will also be allowed.

Other workplaces, childcare facilities, restaurants and bars will open in later phases, with schools and universities to stay closed until September. The cabinet will meet again on Saturday to agree further measures to help businesses restart, Varadkar said.

Cases in Ireland rose to 20,833, with 1,265 deaths. While 221 new cases marked the lowest daily rise since April 1, Ireland’s chief medical officer said on Thursday that hospital admissions were too high for restrictions to be lifted.

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