Ireland may decide next week to speed up reopening plan

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland may next week speed up the reopening of its economy if coronavirus infections remain low, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday, though its chief medical officer said he was likely to advise against any such move.

Ireland partially eased stay-at-home restrictions last week, in the first of five stages that constitute one of Europe’s most conservative plans for rolling back a lockdown imposed in late March.

Restaurants are set to open in late June, with hairdressers and hotels to follow in July and pubs in August. But Varadkar’s caretaker government is coming under pressure from business and some politicians to accelerate the timetable.

The government has said it is open to allowing parts of the economy to restart ahead of schedule if the virus remains under control but Varadkar said it would not be clear until next week if the first phase has proceeded smoothly.

“If we see that the (case) numbers are still going very much in the right direction in the first week of June… then we can have some confidence in bringing forward some of the things in the later phases,” he told parliament.

The daily number of new COVID-19 cases has stayed below 100 for 10 of the last 11 days, while on Monday Ireland reported no coronavirus-related deaths for the first time since March.

But later on Wednesday Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said he was “a little bit worried” about an increase in the number of daily admissions to intensive care units and hospitals in the past 24 hours.

He said he would monitor the data closely in coming days and was unlikely to advise a speeding up the reopening plan, though that would ultimately be a political decision.

The National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday reported 73 new COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths.

Pubs, hotels and hairdressers have all pushed to be allowed to open sooner. Michael O’Leary, the boss of airline Ryanair, added his weight on Wednesday.

“It’s ridiculously restrictive,” he told the Newstalk radio station. “There is no reason for Ireland being the most locked-down country in the western world when we’ve been one of the best performers in dealing with COVID.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Peter Graff and John Stonestreet)