The 5km travel limit is driving people “absolutely bonkers” and there should be a slight easing of coronavirus restrictions next month, according to Minister Simon Harris.
The Taoiseach is expected to announce what restrictions can be eased after a Cabinet meeting next Tuesday; however, fluctuating case numbers in recent days have led to concerns in some quarters.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said he expects April to see a “slight easing of some restrictions.”
“I think it has to,” he said. “I don’t want to overly speculate but that 5km is driving people absolutely bonkers at this stage.
“The 5km in an urban community is very different – you might not get to the end of a field in a rural community.
“I think we need to look at how we can help people live with low-risk activities and doing things outdoors we know is safer than doing things indoors.”
He noted that the virus tends to “tear up our best-made plans” but said he believes Government must set out a clear roadmap for reopening as far as is possible.
“Let’s be honest, we are not going to be in a position to do a huge amount more in April, we have to truthful on that,” he said.
“But I would like to see us begin to spell out what the months of May, June and July might look like as we begin to see the vaccine programme really ramp up.”
Last night, health officials announced 683 further cases of the virus and 18 new virus-related deaths, six of which happened this month.
The 14-day rate of the virus in Ireland is 159.3 cases per 100,000 people, while the five-day moving average stands at 573.
Minister Harris said he is “concerned but also optimistic” about the virus figures.
“There are 310 people in hospital with COVID-19 as of last night – it is not so long ago there was about 2,000 people,” he said.
“The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 is down 9% on last week. The number of patients in ICU is reducing; the number of people being vaccinated is increasing.
“I think what we have seen over the last week is how easy it is for these new variants to spread.
“We have seen lots of examples where one case can lead to dozens and dozens or even hundreds of cases so there is a need for all of us to continue to be aware of all of those things we are fed with up with people telling us to do but that are as important as ever.”
He said he genuinely believes we are “heading into a summer where we can see hope and we can see reopening.”
“We saw what happened when we vaccinated everybody in the nursing homes,” he said. “People can now go and see their loved ones in nursing homes again. We have seen the number of cases in nursing homes thank god, completely collapse.
“In the coming weeks, everyone over 70 will be vaccinated and there will have to be a dividend and a bonus from that.
“So, there is a lot of doom and gloom around at the moment; I understand why, it is serious, we need to be concerned but we also need to be hopeful.
"I genuinely believe and I don’t mind saying it that as a Government, we are going to have to, in the coming days, begin talking to people about what the way out of this looks like. We can’t just keep telling people what they can’t do.”
He also said he expects Ireland to be in a “very, very different place” before the next school year begins, with third-level students back on campuses around the country.
“While I can’t be overly prescriptive now, what I can say is I expect a lot more on-site activity in the new college year and we will spell out what we believe that looks like in the early summer,” he said.
On The Pat Kenny Show yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he was hopeful the Government will find a way to ease the 5km travel restriction in April.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has suggested restrictions on meeting up outdoors could be eased.