One month ago, we started the process of easing very difficult restrictions on all our lives.
I stood here and explained our strategy and the rationale that underpinned it.
I set out a path ahead which I believed was responsible and realistic.
I asked you to continue to exercise caution and to trust the science.
That evening I promised that the Government would continue to review all of the evidence and that before the end of April we hoped to be able to continue the process of responsible reopening, and to give more clarity on the path ahead.
The good news is that the strategy is working.
Because of your hard work and sacrifices, we are in a better place.
A million of our children are now safely back at school, our young people are back playing sport, house building has safely restarted all across the country, vital non-Covid healthcare is being restored, and, critically, our National Vaccination Programme is progressing well.
By tonight, more than 1.5 million vaccine doses will have been administered. That means close to 30% of everyone over 16 has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
In making decisions on what should happen next, the Government has weighed a number of considerations:
We have looked at the progress achieved in managing the spread of the disease, the impact of the vaccination programme and the need to continue responsibly reopening our society and economy.
But we have also looked at the risks of moving too quickly. We have to monitor closely the issue of dangerous new variants and learn from the experience of other countries that are now in the grip of deadly new waves of the disease.
In particular, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of India. As a country we are doing what we can to help them through this terrible time.
As I have said repeatedly, we are determined to do everything we can to ensure that when we open a sector of our society or economy, it stays open.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, we now believe it is safe to continue moving forward in two phases over the coming months.
The next phase will commence on 10th of May, when a series of really important and very welcome freedoms will be restored.
- The resumption of intercounty travel
- Click and collect services and retail-by-appointment can begin at all non essential retail outlets, with full reopening on 17th May
- Galleries, museums and other cultural attractions can reopen
- Our libraries can open again
- Religious services can resume, with a limit of 50 people attending
- And we can increase the numbers of people able to meet outdoors for social purposes, including in private gardens, to a maximum of either:
- Three households, or a group of six people.
- Small organised outdoor gatherings will also be possible with a maximum attendance of 15 people, while outdoor training for adults can also recommence, in pods of a maximum of 15 people.
And it is with no small measure of personal relief that I can also confirm that on 10th May, hairdressing and other personal services will reopen by appointment all across the country.
From 10th May there will also be increased opportunities for those who have been fully vaccinated.
Indoor private home visiting will be permitted, without masks or social distancing in the following cases:
- Those who are fully vaccinated may visit with other fully vaccinated people, providing there is no more than 3 households present
- And those who are fully vaccinated may visit with unvaccinated people from a single household, provided they are not at risk of severe illness.
We will of course continue to monitor closely the effect that these changes have on the spread of the disease.
And subject to the situation remaining stable, we will then proceed with the next phase.
This would mean that from June 2nd, Hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and self catering accommodation can reopen for guests and from June 7th, the following further steps will be possible:
- Outdoor services in bars and restaurants can recommence, with sector specific safety measures in place.
- Outdoor sports matches can recommence, but with no spectators at this time.
- Gyms, swimming pools, and leisure centres can reopen for individual training.
- The number of guests attending wedding receptions can increase to 25.
- And indoor visits in private homes from one other household can begin again.
Taking these steps will see many thousands of people going back to work for the first time in many months. I understand how difficult it has been for businesses and workers, and the huge desire there is for people just to be able to make a living again.
I thank you for the sacrifice you have made and it is your determination to get back to successful trading which convinces me that our society and our economy will recover.
As we all prepare for and enjoy the greater freedom of movement I’ve outlined, thoughts will also, inevitably turn to what happens next.
Clearly, the overriding priority is the continued successful roll-out of the vaccine.
As you know, we have had a range of challenges to the vaccine programme to manage over the last month – supply disruptions, and updated but necessary advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Council have required change, flexibility and agility.
The HSE has shown that flexibility and agility, and we in Government will continue to provide every conceivable support and resource to meet the targets we have set. In spite of the changes, 95% of all available vaccine supplies are being administered within 7 days.
No effort whatsoever will be spared to make sure that every vaccine we receive into the country is administered as quickly as possible.
You have responded extremely positively to the launch of the online portal, and I’m pleased to confirm that over the course of next week, the portal will open for registration to all those aged 50-59.
The Covid vaccines are transformative. We can see it in countries all across the world and we can see it here.
Already, almost all of our most vulnerable are now protected – and we can already see that the rates of death, serious illness, hospital admissions and infections in people who have been vaccinated, have collapsed.
All across the country, there are very few families that have not witnessed at first hand the sense of relief and sheer joy of a loved one receiving their vaccine.
That will continue and accelerate significantly over the weeks ahead and as it does, the list of options available to us continues to grow.
As I look forward into July and beyond, I want to see our aviation, tourism and all hospitality businesses back doing what they do better than anyone else on earth,
I want to see the safe return of our vital artistic and cultural life.
And I want to see our students back on campus for the new academic year, enjoying the sort of further and higher education experience that they deserve.
We can do all of these things, and more. And plans are being developed in each of these sectors.
However, to enable all of this, the key factor remains sticking with the strategy – a gradual, responsible reopening,
with all of us observing the rules and respecting the guidance that remains in place. Our choices and our individual behaviour remain key.
We continue to escalate the roll-out of the vaccine;
while all the time keeping a close and careful eye on the effects that each change we make has on the spread of this deadly virus.
It has been a very tough and unprecedented year, in so many ways.
But at every stage of this public health crisis, you have done everything that has been asked of you.
We as a Government will continue to do everything we can to support you and make sure that together as a people we emerge from the pandemic in a position where we can rebuild our society and our economy.
Today for example, we agreed that any business currently availing of CRSS, which can now reopen, will be able to avail of double payment up to a maximum of €5,000 per week, to support them in meeting the costs of reopening.
Despite the unprecedented demands that the virus placed on it, our health service has been transformed. The health service of 2021 is very different to that of 2019. As Taoiseach I am determined that we embed that positive change for the longer term.
Tá gaisce déanta ag muintir na hÉireann cloí go coinsiasach dúthrachtach leis na srianta go dtí seo, tá laghdú mór tagtha ar líon na nothar sna hospidéil agus tá na cásanna laethúla den ghalar ag titim.
Ta an samhradh ag teacht, is cuimhin liom dán Sheáin Uí Ríordáin agus é ag tagairt do thráthnóna gréine i gCorca Dhuibhne.
Beidh seans againn anois a bheith dearfach dóchasach ag breacadh gach lae ag súil le laethanta geala an tsamhraidh atá romhainn.
As we enter this next stage of a long and difficult journey, we all search for inspiration and we try to find reassurance that there is a solid basis for the hope that is growing within us.
For me, I’ve found it in the faces and the laughter of all those people I’ve met on my visits to vaccination centres.
Because as disruptive, as lonely, as frustrating and as sad as the last year has been,
We are getting through it and a degree of normality is returning.
The company of friends and relations is returning.
Hope is returning.
Each and every one of us has an image in our head of a moment that we are looking forward to enjoying when we get through this.
I know I have.
Tonight, each and every one of us is closer to enjoying that moment than we have been for a very long time.
Let’s stick to the strategy, stay safe and continue to mind each other.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh