Ireland is to remain at the highest level of restrictions for the next two weeks before a phased and cautious lessening of Level 5 restrictions occurs from April 12.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the nation that the stubbornly high case numbers in recent weeks, in conjunction with the prevalence of the B117 UK variant, means any reopening of society will be slow and gradual.
Taoiseach acknowledges that "a lot has been asked of everyone" as Ireland has been in lockdown since Christmas. "It has been, and it is exceptionally difficult."
Mr Martin says that the restrictions we have put up with on our lives, "has saved lives" and says that this virus is a "different beast" to what caused Ireland to lock down 54 weeks ago.
The Taoiseach said “we are on the final stretch” and the “worst of pandemic” will be behind us.
Mr Martin says the B117 virus is "almost like a new virus" and that if it is given "any space at all" to spread, the consequences are terrible".
Ireland can avoid the wave of surging cases across Europe our approach is cautious, Mr Martin said.
From April 12, Mr Martin said the 5km limit "will no longer apply and people can travel within their own county".
"Two households can meet outdoors for social and recreational purposes," from April 12 the Taoiseach says.
"A phased return of construction will see those building houses and childcare facilities return to work," the Taoiseach said.
Around 14,000 construction workers will return to work on April 12 as part of this phased return, which the Taoiseach says is "necessary in terms of dealing with the housing crisis".
Mr Martin confirmed inter- county GAA teams could resume training from April 19, with a view to beginning the national leagues in May.
Outdoor training for under-18s, golf and tennis may return seven days later on April 26, the Taoiseach confirms.
Zoos, wildlife parks and other outdoor amenities may also open on April 26. On this date, the Taoiseach confirmed that funerals can hold up to 25 people.
While two fully vaccinated people can now meet indoors.
This will help "our elderly population, who have had a particularly difficult year, to reconnect," the Taoiseach said.
Mr Martin said: "Thanks to the truly historic effort of the world’s best scientific minds, we now have a range of brilliantly effective, and safe vaccines, little more than a year after this terrible virus began killing people.
"These vaccines are transformative.
"And they are our way out,” he added.
"Each time that I’ve stood here and talked to you about the pandemic and what we must do to protect ourselves and our society, I’ve had to talk about the path out of the pandemic in the future tense.
"Vaccines were always something that we were looking forward to.
"That is no longer the case. Thanks to the truly historic effort of the world’s best scientific minds, we now have arange of brilliantly effective, and safe vaccines, little more than a year after this terrible virus began killing people.
"In Europe, we now have four separate types of Covid vaccines approved for use and it is increasingly clear from all around the world that each one of them has a remarkable impact, in terms of preventing serious illness and death.
"We have evidence here in Ireland, from the reduced infections in our vulnerable population and our healthcare workers who have already been vaccinated," an Taoiseach said.
The only thing that is holding Ireland back is vaccine supply, Mr Martin said, adding that the "very good news" is that supply is set to dramatically increase in April, May and June.
"By the middle of April, all over 70s will have had their first dose, and mid to late May all over 70s will be fully vaccinated. So, the truth is that despite the difficulties with international supply, our National Vaccination Programme is well underway
I expect that by the end of next week, we will have administered close to 1 million doses...close to 3 million doses will be administered by the end of May. Nearly 5m doses by early July and 6m doses by the end of July," an Taoiseach said.
Government will look at a phased reopening of non-essential retail, personal services, all non-contact sports training, religious services, museums, galleries and libraries, and additional freedoms for those who are fully vaccinated in May.
"Towards the end of May, and depending on progress, we will look at the reopening of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses in the month of June.
"July and August will see more intensive vaccination and the vast majority of the population will have significant protection against the virus allowing for significant opportunities to re-open even further," Mr Martin said.
"By being safe now, while significantly ramping up the vaccination programme, we will enjoy much greater freedom later in the summer," the Taoiseach said.
In seven weeks, everyone over 70 will have been fully vaccinated, saying the country was on " the final stretch of this terrible journey".
"This Summer, our businesses and our public services will safely reopen. We will finally be meeting and enjoying the company of friends and family once again.
"We will be able to travel within and enjoy our beautiful country again. Jobs and livelihoods will be restored. And most importantly, the worst of this awful pandemic, will be behind us.
Steadily, and safely, let’s get through this final phase together," Mr Martin concluded.
The Governments current plan covers the month of April, following on from that the reopening of other aspects of society will be considered.
There are no changes set for this date, despite it initially being earmarked by Government as a date for changes.
People will be permitted to travel anywhere within their own county or within 20km of residence if crossing county boundaries.
All remaining students will return to the classroom on this date.
People from two separate households will be allowed to meet outside from this date, but this must be in a public place and not in front or back gardens, and it must only be with people from one other household.
Construction of homes will also resume on April 12.
Intercounty GAA teams will be permitted to resume training in preparation for the national leagues starting in May, as well as training for certain high performance athletes.
The number of people permitted to attend a funeral is expected to be raised to 25 on this date.
Outdoor sports such as golf and tennis will be permitted to return under Government plans, while non-contact training for under-18s will also be permitted.
It’s believed children will be permitted to partake in non-contact training pods of 15 from this date.
People who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to meet indoors.
Outdoor amenities and cultural heritage sites will be allowed to open their doors from this date also.
The measures announced today will continue up to the 4th of May, at which point the following areas will be under consideration:
- Full re-opening of construction activity.
- Phased return of non-essential retail commencing with click and collect and outdoor retail i.e. garden centres/nurseries.
- Recommencement of Personal Services on a staggered basis.
- Re-opening of Museums, Galleries & Libraries
- Recommencement of religious services on a staggered basis
Retail Excellence has said it is “deeply shocked and disappointed” that click and collect services will not be reintroduced until May.
Duncan Graham, Managing Director of Retail Excellence, said: “Click and collect is a lifeline for businesses, especially small independent traders, and this move will now seriously threaten the viability of hundreds of retailers around the country who were desperate for assistance and a definitive timeline from the Government."
Below is a breakdown of what restrictions will be eased in this gradual and phased approach throughout April.
While the bulk of Government’s focus is on a minimal loosening of restrictions in April, possible alterations to restrictions believed to be in consideration for May include a wider return of the construction industry.
This is dependent on how case numbers progress through April in the face of increased intra-county movement and the vaccination rollout.
Personal services such as barbers, hairdressing salons, and non-essential retail may open in May.