Government Outlines Business Re-Opening Timeline

01 May 2020 | 07.28 pm

Government Outlines Business Re-Opening Timeline

Restaurants can't re-open until June 29, hotels until July 20, pubs until August 10

01 May 2020 | 07.28 pm

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his government have decided to extend business lockdowns in Ireland for months to come on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

The general lockdown that was due to be eased on May 5 has been extended to May 18.

“We need two more weeks of tight restrictions to weaken the virus further, so it doesn’t have the strength to make a comeback when we start to interact with each other once again,” Varadkar (pictured) claimed.

NPHET has devised five stages of lockdown unwinding, three weeks apart, starting on May 18. Dr Varadkar warned that the various phases will be progressed only if the virus stays under control between each phase. However, he offered no metric as to how that will be judged.

There is no indication that various phases can be accelerated if virus control is ahead of NPHET’s mystery virus control schedule. However, sectoral representative lobby groups will be pressing ministers to bring forward their mooted reopening date.

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said the roadmap should be pliable in its phasing, flexed as developments require and subject to advice from key stakeholders in society.

“Whilst three weeks has a logic in its public health dimension, it is unlikely to be compatible with the sustainability of businesses surviving, nor the capacity of the state to continue supports for both employees and business,” he stated. “We will be working closely with government through the Labour Employer Economic Forum over the coming weeks on the practical implementation and phasing issues of the initial roadmap.”

NPHET’s Public Health Framework declares that ‘key indicators’ have been developed to identify when to consider the slow and gradual easing of current restrictive measures. These include downward trajectories in the incidence of disease; the numbers of deaths; the numbers of cases and clusters in residential healthcare settings; hospitalisation and ICU capacity; and the delivery of sampling, testing and contact tracing.

No metrics for these indicators have been shared with the public.

Whatever virus suppression modelling NPHET has conducted to inform the Roadmap for Reopening Society & Business has not been revealed either. That data is entirely speculative in any case, and many of the roadmap staging posts seem entirely arbitrary.

For instance, what modelling prevents the opening of hairdressers until July 20 rather than June 29? NPHET’s suck it and see it approach has huge implications for affected business owners, even before they have to contend with the commercial social distancing strictures to follow.

For the moment, the five-phase roadmap has a rushed look about it, and is vague about exact details on limitations, which no doubt will follow in the coming weeks.

Phase 1 – May 18

Return to work of outdoor workers such as construction workers and gardeners. Shops that are primarily outdoor such as garden centres, hardware stores, farmers markets can re-open.

Shops that were previously open in Tier 2, such as homeware, opticians, motor dealers car servicing, bicycle and repair, office products, electrical, IT, phone sales and repair can open. A full list will be provided in advance of May 18. Outdoor spaces such as beaches and mountain walks will be opened. Social distancing requirements to apply in all settings. It’s not clear yet whether car showrooms will re-open in Phase 2 or Phase 3.

Phase 2 – June 8

Workers defined as ‘non-essential’ who can keep a 2-metre distance from others can return to work. Small retail outlets can reopen on the basis that the retailer can control the number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any one time. Marts can be opened where social distancing can be maintained. Travel limit for exercise extended to 20 kilometres.  Employers are being urged to comply with this very detailed and over-the-top Return to Work Safety Protocol.

Phase 3 – June 29

Cafés and restaurants providing on-premises food and beverages can re-open for the first time in three months, subject to complying with social distancing and cleaning protocols. Sporting activities and events can resume behind closed doors, “where arrangements are in place to enable participants to maintain social distancing”.

NHPET states rather vaguely that organisations can open where employees have low levels of daily interaction with people. Also vague is the guidance that “the opening of all other non-essential retail outlets will be phased in” on the basis of a restriction on the number of staff and customers per square metre so that social distancing can be maintained. However, this is to be limited to retail outlets with a street-level entrance and exit, and does not include shops in enclosed shopping centres.

NPHET warns, again vaguely, that travel restrictions may be implemented on numbers travelling to and in major urban centres on weekdays and weekend days.

Phase 4 – July 20

Travel permitted for the first time in four months around the country. Hotels, hostels, caravan parks, and holiday parks for social and tourist activities can open, initially on a limited occupancy basis (or number of people per square metre). However, hotel bars will not yet be permitted to operate.

In another vague stricture, NPHET has decreed that “employees who cannot work remotely will return to work”, adding that “remote working continues for all workers or businesses that can do so”. Equally vague is the statement that “restrictions can be gradually eased on higher risk services involving direct physical contact such as hairdressers”.

Small weddings and baptisms will be permitted subject to unspecified maximum number of attendees. Museums, galleries, and other cultural outlets can be opened, as well as places of worship. Competitions for sports teams can resume with limitations on the numbers of spectators and where social distancing can be maintained.

Phase 5 – August 10

Pubs and nightclubs re-open for the first time in five months, and presumably (though not confirmed) hotel bars too.  Some larger social gatherings such as weddings can take place, subject to restrictions. Enclosed shopping centres can re-open, as well as theatres and cinemas, bowling alleys, bingo halls. Festivals, events and other social and cultural mass gatherings can also take place subject to attendance caps and social distancing.

Close physical contact sports, such as rugby and boxing, can resume. Gyms, dance studios and sports clubs can re-open too. Spectators can begin to attend live sporting events only in accordance with both indoor and outdoor numbers restricted and where social distancing can be complied with.

 

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