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Ireland cautiously starts easing lockdown with the first of five phases

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Ireland cautiously starts easing lockdown with the first of five phases
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Ireland has taken the first baby steps toward easing its coronavirus lockdown.

The country entered the first stage of a five-phase plan to lift restrictions on Monday (May 18) after a nationwide stay-at-home order in place since late March.

Some businesses including hardware stores, farmers’ markets and garden centres can now reopen their doors, but homeware shops like Ikea cannot.

Some construction firms are also returning to work, if employees can keep at a safe distance from one another.

But many offices remain closed and citizens are encouraged to work from home where possible. People are also advised to use facemasks on public transport as well as in enclosed areas, and to comply with all other advice on social distancing and hand washing.

This is all part of a five-phase plan to ease the lockdown that will end on August 10 with the reopening of pubs.

Schools have been closed for the rest of the academic year and will not take in any students before September.

Cafes and restaurants won’t reopen until the end of June, and you won’t get a haircut in Ireland until the end of July, so it’s still quite strict.

Those eager to get some exercise will be able to play tennis or exercise outdoors in small groups of up to four people, as long as they remain within five kilometers from their home. Some golf courses have also reopened.

Teachers can now return to school and university but only to prepare for the resumption of classes in September.

Health Minister Simon Harris told national broadcaster RTE that he was "both pleased and nervous" as restrictions were eased.

The Irish government does have grounds for optimism, as the number of people in intensive care units is down by two thirds in a month, while the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases is down more than 90 per cent, according to figures cited by Harris.

But Ireland is on the lookout for a potential rebound in infections as it eases restrictions. It also expects a brutal recession this year, with GDP set to shrink more than 10 per cent.

The second phase of the country's gradual reopening is scheduled for June 8, the third on June 29, the fourth on July 20 and the fifth and final phase on August 10.

However, government officials have warned that this plan may change if Ireland sees a rise in coronavirus cases. The nation is already looking closely at how other EU states are faring as they lift their own lockdowns.

You can watch Shona’s update from Dublin in the video player above.