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Ireland brings forward lifting of lockdown

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Leo Varadkar has accelerated the lifting of Ireland’s lockdown, bringing forward the reopening of the country’s domestic tourism sector and allowing all shops to open again this month.

The Irish premier’s move follows pressure from business to expedite the lifting of severe coronavirus restrictions in place since March amid mounting anxiety about the escalating economic costs of the pandemic.

“Summer is not lost and this can be a summer of hope if we keep the virus at bay,” Mr Varadkar told a televised press conference on Friday.

In a loosening of measures from Monday that goes beyond previously agreed plans, people will be allowed travel within their own county or up to 20 km from their home. Groups of six people will be allowed to meet indoors or outdoors, once they keep at least two metres apart, and groups of 15 will be able to meet for outdoor sports.

Travel limits will be lifted from the end of June, when the government plans to reopen hotels, restaurants, bars that also operate as restaurants and hostels, and caravan parks. Mr Varadkar had previously set out a five-phase plan in which hotels were not due to reopen until July. But he has now scrapped the fifth phase, which was not due to kick in until August, and brought forward the schedule.

Most shops can reopen next Monday but shopping centres will wait until June 15 and people will not be allowed to meet at benches, fountains or food courts. Up to 25 people will be allowed to attend funerals, an increase from 10 people since the start of the lockdown.

Covid-19 has claimed 1,664 lives in the Irish republic and there have been 25,142 infections. The decision to speed up the reopening of the economy came after health officials concluded that initial steps to ease restrictions almost three weeks ago have not negatively affected the virus reproduction number. The R value is currently estimated at 0.4-0.7, well below the benchmark of 1 above which the virus grows exponentially.

“The data is going in the right direction,” Mr Varadkar told reporters. “We see an onward downward trend in the number of new cases, the number of people in intensive care units, the number of people hospitalised with Covid, the number of deaths being reported every day.”

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