Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a return to phase 3 restrictions is planned for May, with a phased re-opening of personal services including hairdressers and barbers during the month.

The country is on track to ease restrictions from May and will also develop a plan for further reopenings in June and July, Mr Varadkar said today.

Most shops, building sites and hospitality were closed in late December after a surge of Covid-19 infections.

Some of those economic restrictions started to lift this week, with housebuilding permitted and all students returning to schools.

"We're on track to ease restrictions from May 4. What we're planning is allowing more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and personal services but what we'll also do at the end of April is develop the plan for June and July," Mr Varadkar said on Morning Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said that all decisions are based on four elements: the vaccines, the variants, virus case numbers and the state of the hospitals.

He said that the Government will consider allowing more outdoor activity and a return to phase three restrictions in May, with retail and personal services such as hairdressing and barbers gradually re-opening during the month.

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At the end of April, he said the Government intends to develop a plan for June and July which he said is "looking good" but depends on the four deciding factors.

He said the Government has had to change the vaccine programme 25 times due to decisions by the EMA, by NIAC or supply issues and more changes may happen yet.

But he said that we should not lose sight of the fact that cases are stable and falling, the R number is below one, people can go beyond 5km and children are back in school.

The Government said last month that it hoped to be able to reopen hotels in June but was criticised by restaurant and bar owners for not giving an indication of when they will be allowed to trade beyond just takeaway services.

Meanwhile, publicans said the Government should announce plans for the reopening of hospitality, beginning in six weeks’ time with outdoor service for all venues.

The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) claimed this should be followed by a return to indoor service for all pubs and restaurants shortly afterwards, aligned with the reopening of hotels across the country.

The comments came as it was announced that all hospitality in Northern Ireland would reopen for outdoor service from April 30, while indoor service is due to resume for all hospitality in England from May 17 and in Northern Ireland from May 24.

The organisation claimed any long delay between the reopening of hospitality in the north and in the Republic would lead to thousands of people making the journey across the border every weekend.

"The Government has re-confirmed that by the end of June more than 80% of the population will have received their first dose of the vaccine, so infection rates should have significantly diminished and the 'vaccine bonus' should allow for all indoor hospitality activity to resume," said LVA chief executive Donall O'Keeffe.

The Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI), which represents publicans outside Dublin, said that in the absence of any meaningful plan from Government, it was publishing a reopening template that highlights key metrics NPHET and Government must address to allow pubs reopen.

These include vaccinations and hospitalisation numbers.

"If the delay in publishing a reopening plan continues any longer, we are calling on Government to double the CRSS payment to publicans," said Padraig Cribben, VFI chief executive.

"As we approach the 'make or break' summer season, the Government must either provide confidence to the trade through a sustainable reopening plan or else increase supports."

Publicans claims were mirrored by retailers, with Retail Ireland calling for the reopening of the entire retail sector in early May.

It also warned that a divergence of approaches between north and south would incentivise cross-border shopping.

"We need to align Covid retail restrictions with Northern Ireland where possible to avoid significant numbers travelling North to shop," said Retail Ireland director, Arnold Dillon.

"An early indication of reopening dates is now needed so businesses can prepare. Managing people, cash flow, stock and supply chains at this time requires careful planning and good organisation."