Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated that "equality of treatment" is a principle the Government will adopt when it comes to easing Covid-19 restrictions.

The comments to Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators tonight seem to open up the possibility of so-called wet pubs being able to serve outdoor customers as well as gastro-pubs.

He said he had listened to them on their concerns on the topic, and the need to "get the balance right".

The Taoiseach re-affirmed that the Cabinet, on Thursday, will examine lifting restrictions on non-essential retail; hairdressers; construction; religious services and sport.

He said the Government would also indicate its plans for June regarding hotels; B+Bs; guest houses; self catering and mobile homes.

The Taoiseach said there will be no cliff edge on supports.

Meanwhile, the number of people receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment fell by over 17,600 over the last week to 403,000 - reflecting a gradual easing of restrictions and return to work.

This week's payments of almost €120 million bring the cost of the PUP scheme to date to over €7.3 billion.

More than 14,500 closed their PUP account to return to work.

The number of PUP recipients does not include a further 183,000 people who were on the Live Register at the end of March.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys earlier described the fall in PUP claims as an encouraging indicator that people were returning to work as restrictions eased, and forecast that there would be a steady improvement in employment numbers as the country moved out of the pandemic.

However, she pledged to maintain supports for sectors which faced delays in reopening.

"Government also recognises that some sectors will be slower to return than others and so there will be no cliff edge end to the economic and income supports at the end of June," she said.

Ms Humphreys acknowledged that easing restrictions too quickly could cause a spike in cases and trigger a setback.

She said the Government wanted to avoid this with a "gradual, cautious and phased" reopening.

There are currently 1,653 people receiving the €350 per week Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit.

Additional reporting Ingrid Miley


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