Public health measures for COVID-19


The WHO has declared that the spread of coronavirus is a pandemic. A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. A pandemic can happen when most people have little or no immunity to a new virus and can transmit it to each other, causing outbreaks in the community.

Ireland has plans in place to deal with public health emergencies such as COVID-19 (coronavirus). These plans are in line with the global plans by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Prevention and Disease Control (ECDC).

Phase 1 of the Government roadmap

The Government has set out a Roadmap for Reopening Society and Businesses (pdf). The roadmap is divided into phases that are planned to last for 3 weeks. Ireland entered phase 1 of the roadmap on 18 May 2020. You can read about planned future phases in ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Businesses’ below.

In general you should stay at home. You can leave your house:

  • To exercise within 5 kilometres of your home
  • To go to work, if you cannot work from home and your workplace is open
  • To shop for essential items
  • To attend medical appointments and collect medicines
  • To provide care to someone who needs it
  • To meet with friends or family outdoors in groups of no more than 4 people

If you leave your home, you should keep a 2-metre distance from other people, except for people you live with.

You should continue to wash your hands often and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when you cough or sneeze.

If you are over 70 or extremely medically vulnerable to COVID-19, you should continue to cocoon. You should not go to shops and should not meet with people from outside your household indoors. You can read more about Cocooning.

Face coverings

Wearing a cloth face covering is recommended in situations where social distancing is difficult, for example, public indoor spaces or transport.

Read questions and answers on wearing face coverings.


You should continue to work from home if you can.

If your workplace is mainly outdoors, you may be able to return to work during phase 1. Construction workers and gardeners can return to work, along with retail workers who work in the retailers listed in shops below.

Your employer must make sure that it is safe for you to return to work.


The following shops will reopen from 18 May:

  • Hardware shops
  • Builders merchants
  • Garden centres
  • Farmers markets
  • Opticians, optometrists and shops that provide hearing tests and hearing aids
  • Car and motorcycle dealers, and related services (repairs and parts)
  • Bicycle shops and repairs
  • Office suppliers, phone and IT suppliers and repair and maintenance services for homes (not including homeware stores)

If you are over 70 or medically vulnerable to COVID-19, you should avoid going to shops. You can read more about shopping during COVID-19.

Sport and culture

You can play sports outside in groups of up to 4 people but you must maintain social distancing.

Golf courses, tennis courts, pitches and some other sports facilities have reopened. You should not travel more than 5 kilometres to play sports.

Outdoor cultural sites and public amenities have reopened.

You can read more about what you need to do during the COVID-19 emergency.

Roadmap for reopening society and business

The Government has set out a Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business (pdf) to ease the COVID-19 restrictions. The plan sets out 5 stages for unlocking restrictions, at 3-week intervals starting 18 May 2020. You can view a summary chart of the 5 reopening phases (pdf). The phases give an indication of the stages that will be followed but the date of each change may vary and will depend on the circumstances at the time. You can read frequently asked questions about the roadmap in our document COVID-19: what you need to do.

Ireland started phase 1 of the roadmap on 18 May 2020. See ‘Phase 1’ above for public health measures in place now.

Phase 2 (8 June 2020)

You will be able to travel up to 20 kilometres from your home. This is an increase from the 5 km limit introduced on 5 May.

Social and leisure activities

Some social and leisure activities can resume with social distancing:

  • Up to 4 people may visit another household
  • Small groups can train for outdoor team sports (but cannot play matches)
  • Public libraries may open

If you are cocooning, you can have a small number of visitors to your home. The visitors must wear gloves and face coverings and must keep at least 2 metres away from you.

Work and business

Remote working will continue for all workers or businesses that can currently do so.

Workers who can keep a 2 metre distance from others can return to work.

Shops will provide dedicated hours for those who are cocooning.

Small retail outlets can reopen with a small number of staff if they can control the number of interactions for staff and customers

Marts can be opened if social distancing can be maintained.


The number of people who can attend funerals will increase slightly but will still be limited to immediate family and close friends.

Phase 3 (29 June 2020)

Social and leisure activities

Some social and leisure activities can resume with social distancing:

  • Sporting activities and events can take place but will not be open to the public
  • Playgrounds can re-open


For children of essential workers, there will be a phased re-opening of crèches, childminding and pre-schools.

Work and business

Working remotely will continue for all workers or businesses that can currently do so.

Some businesses can re-open if they follow social distancing rules:

  • Organisations where employees have low levels of interaction with people.
  • Cafés and restaurants providing food and drink on the premises.
  • Non-essential shops, in phases and with restrictions on the number of staff and customers per square metre. This will not include shopping centres.

Transport and travel

The number of people travelling to and in major urban centres may be restricted.

Public transport providers will restrict and monitor passenger numbers to ensure social distancing.

The numbers using private cars will be restricted.

Specific measures will be introduced at ports and airports.

Health and social care services

Visiting will be gradually introduced to hospitals, residential centres and prisons.

Phase 4 (20 July 2020)

You will be able to travel outside your region and beyond the 20 kilometre limit of phase 3.

Social and leisure activities

Some social and leisure activities can take place with social distancing:

  • An increased number of people will be able to visit another household.
  • Small social gatherings will be allowed, with a maximum number of attendees for a limited period of time.
  • Museums, galleries and other cultural venues can open.
  • Competitions for sports teams can resume (for example, soccer and GAA).
  • Public swimming pools can open.
  • Hotels, hostels, caravan parks and holiday parks can open with a limit on numbers which will gradually increase. Hotel bars will remain closed.


Crèches, childminders and preschools will open for children of all workers on a limited basis (for example, one day per week) that will gradually increase.

Work and business

Working remotely will continue for all workers or businesses that can do so.

Employees who cannot work remotely will be considered first for a return to the workplace.

Depending on the business, measures such as shift work and staggered hours should be used to increase the numbers who can work while limiting interaction.

Restrictions will be gradually reduced on some widely used service that are higher risk due to direct physical contact (for example, hairdressers).

Transport and travel

Restrictions will be gradually decreased on the numbers travelling in major urban centres on public transport and in private cars.

Specific measures will be introduced at ports and airports.

Phase 5 (10 August 2020)

Social and leisure activities

Some larger social gatherings can take place (for example, weddings). These will be restricted due to the risks involved.

Some social and leisure activities can resume where social distancing is maintained:

  • Festivals, events and other social and cultural mass gatherings with restricted numbers
  • Close physical contact sports, such as rugby and boxing
  • Live sporting events with spectators in restricted numbers

Some venues can re-open if social distancing is maintained:

  • Theatres and cinemas
  • Indoor recreational venues, such as bowling alleys and bingo halls
  • Pubs, nightclubs and casinos
  • Gyms, dance studios and sports clubs

Work and business

All sectors will gradually return to work. Working remotely will continue for all workers or businesses that can do so.

Enclosed shopping centres can re-open with social distancing.

Organisations that cannot easily maintain social distancing will implement plans for all staff to return to the workplace.

Restrictions will be reduced for services that involve direct physical contact for periods of time and for which there is a limited demand (for example, tattoos or piercing).

Transport and travel

Visitors will be able to travel to offshore islands.

Social distancing and hygiene measures will continue for public and private transport.


Schools and colleges at primary, secondary and third level can open on a phased basis at the beginning of the academic year 2020/21. Adult education centres can also open.

Health and social care services

Normal visiting will resume for hospitals, residential healthcare centres, other residential settings and prisons.

Emergency legislation

Public health measures

On 20 March 2020, the President signed the Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 into law.

The Act gives the Minister for Health the power to make regulations to introduce measures to slow down the spread of the virus.

Under this Act the Minster can make regulations to:

  • Restrict travel to and from Ireland
  • Restrict travel within Ireland to stop people moving to and from affected areas
  • Stop gatherings of people from taking place, and to make organisers of these gatherings put safeguards in place to prevent the virus from spreading
  • Make businesses (such as shops) put safeguards in place to protect their staff and customers
  • Close premises, including schools

Detentions and penalties

An Garda Síochána have been given additional powers including arrest without warrant, under the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations. The new powers aim to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19.

Non-compliance with a direction of a Garda without a lawful excuse will be a criminal offence. Any offence is punishable by a fine of up to €2,500, up to six months imprisonment or a combination of both.

The regulations came into effect on 8 April and and may be reviewed in line with recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer. The regulations have been extended to remain in operation until 8 June 2020 by Statutory Instrument 174 of 2020 (pdf),with the easing of some restrictions in line with phase 1 of the roadmap for reopening society and business. Failure to comply with a regulation will be an offence, and the Gardaí have been given special powers, including the power to arrest without warrant, to enforce any regulation made under the Act.

Other penalties

The Act also allows for detention where it is believed by a qualified medical person that a person is:

  • A potential source of infection and
  • A risk to public health and
  • Detention is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19

A person will be only be detained if they refuse to remain in a specified place like their home or a hospital, or cannot be isolated in any other way.

A person detained will be tested as soon as possible and will be able to ask for a review of their detention by an independent person on the grounds they are not a source of infection. Failure to comply with a detention, or interfering with the detention of a person will be a criminal offence.

Other measures

On 27 March 2020, the President signed the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 into law.

The legislation includes measures to:

  • Prevent the termination of residential tenancies and increases in rent
  • Allow for the disregard of certain time periods and deadlines in planning and building legislation
  • Extend the period that an employee must be temporarily laid off or on short time for before they can claim redundancy
  • Simplify the registration process to help recruit retired health professionals
  • Facilitate the operation of the mental health tribunals during the pandemic
  • Introduce a temporary wage subsidy scheme
  • Support re-enlistment of former members of the permanent defence force

Previous measures

The Government published Ireland’s National Action Plan in response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) (pdf).

The first stage of the plan to respond to coronavirus in Ireland was the containment strategy which aimed to find all cases early, identify contacts and stop it spreading. The second stage was the delay stage, which aimed to slow down the spread of the virus, by minimising contact between potentially infected people and healthy people.

Measures to delay the spread of the virus taken on 12 March 2020 included closing schools, colleges, childcare facilities and state-run cultural institutions. Hospital visits were restricted. Pubs were advised to close. These measures were extended, along with further measures announced on 24 March 2020.

On 10 April, the measures were extended until 5 May 2020. On 1 May it was announced that most of the measures would be extended from 5 May until 18 May. On 15 May, the Government announced that Ireland would enter phase 1 of the roadmap for reopening society and business on 18 May 2020.

Page edited: 19 May 2020