TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has confirmed it is "safe to proceed" with the first phase of reopening Ireland's society and economy from the coronavirus restrictions.
He said it's a reason for hope but not a cause for celebration and warned there will be "bumps in the road" and the public will have to "keep our guard up".
Mr Varadkar said that from Monday, people will be allowed to meet outside in groups of four while maintaining social distancing and go to garden centres and hardware stores.
And he said people should wear face-coverings on public transport and in shops.
He warned that public health advice like washing hands and social distancing must continue.
He said that the government's roadmap for reopening Ireland is "provisional" and "reversible".
Mr Varadkar said that as lockdown is eased the opportunity for the virus to spread will increase.
He said: "personal responsibility will become more important not less."
Mr Varadkar said coronavirus is an "inferno that is raging around the world.
"In Ireland it is now a fire in retreat but it is not defeated. We must extinguish every spark...
"We must rely on each other if we are to succeed and we will," he said.
Mr Varadkar said people are still being advised to stay at home.
But leaving the house is allowed in five circumstances.
Other measures in phase one of the government's roadmap for reopening are allowing work on construction sites again and permitting golf courses and tennis courts to reopen.
Homeware stores will not be permitted to open next week under revised government plans to reopen the country.
It had been expected that homeware shops, such as Ikea, would be allowed open under the first phase of the roadmap to reopen society and the economy.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the change to their plans at a press conference today. Hardware stores will be permitted to open to customers from Monday morning.
Yesterday, Ikea announced that they were making plans to reopen next week but they will now be forced to remain closed.
Homeware stores were listed among those that may be allowed open from Monday in the government's roadmap for easing restrictions.
Garden centres, hardware stores and farmers markets described as "primarily outdoors" were listed for opening.
Other retail outlets that were listed include homeware, opticians, motor, bicycle and repair shops, office product retailers and electrical, IT and phone sales and repair businesses.
Car dealerships are also gearing up to start selling vehicles from Monday.
So long as their protection of staff, customers and premises meet strict COVID-19 protocol guidelines they are free to re-start sales.
They had already been expecting to open for servicing and repairs under the government’s road map from May 18th.
But there had been confusion about whether or not they would be permitted to re-start selling cars at the same time.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “retailers involved in the sale, supply and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles and related facilities” can re-open.
The decision will come as a boost for jobs and businesses in the motor industry which were facing a potentially long, cold summer if opening had been delayed by another three or, possibly, six weeks.
Now dealers and distributors can plot a push to sell potentially thousands of cars in the short July 202-reg window that has opened earlier than many expected. There is also a backlog of used cars to be cleared from forecourts, sources say.
The industry welcomed the decision. Society of Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) director general Brian Cooke said: “I think it is hugely positive step for the industry and the country.”
The Nissan and Skoda networks were among the first to say their dealers will “fully re-open” for sale, service and repairs from Monday.
Not all dealerships will open as quickly, it appears, due to a mixture of preparedness derived from the expectation that they would not be allowed to sell cars in this phase of the ‘road map’.
Every outlet will have to meet stringent Covid-19 Protocol requirements or face severe sanctions by the HSA-led enforcement agency.
It is being left to each individual outlet to decide if its measures meet all the requirements of the protocol.
Among the factors that make compliance that bit easier for car sales are that showrooms are relatively easy to manage in terms of space and social distance.
And customer visits and appointments can be arranged in advance to ensure that customer numbers are kept to easily managed proportions.
Much of the sale process will be carried out via video and phone prior to a buyer sitting in the car. Many outlets say they are in a position to offer unaccompanied test drives.
To meet the Protocol the huge range of measures required for many dealerships include: PPE for staff and customers with masks and gloves, 2-metre distance markers, protective screens, hand sanitisers on all desks, sanitisation stations at all entrances, full sanitisation for all touch points in cars, disposable covers on seats, steering wheel and gear stick, contactless drop-off and pick-up.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath this afternoon warned that there could be "confusion" over which businesses can reopen next week.
He said on Twitter he has sent several queries to the Department of Business on behalf of local businesses looking to find out when they can reopen.
Mr McGrath said that in every case the answer has been that it's up to the business themselves to decide where they sit on the government's phased roadmap for reopening.
He said: "This is a recipe for confusion next week."
Mr McGrath added that the vast majority of businesses owners want to do the right thing but they're "entitled to absolute clarity" about opening.
"In its absence we'll inevitably see a loosening that goes beyond current health advice."
The government also recommended the use of face coverings on public transport and in shops.
"As part of the gradual easing of restrictions in Phase 1, members of the public are being advised to use a face covering (i.e. a non-medical face covering) as an additional hygiene measure, when using busy public transport or when in enclosed indoor public areas such as retail outlets," a government spokesperson said.
It comes after weeks of debate on the issue where the Taoiseach and other ministers have signalled such advice would be introduced.
They have stressed that it should be face coverings rather than the kinds of clinical masks that are used by medical professionals.
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