DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland is on track to ease restrictions from May 4 to allow the phased reopening of all retail stores and hairdressers and will also develop a plan for further reopenings in June and July, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.
However, it is unlikely to follow the more rapid reopening that neighbouring England has pursued on the back of a more advanced vaccination programme, which Varadkar said amounted to an "experiment" with many not yet vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ireland shut most shops, building sites and hospitality in late December after a surge of COVID-19 infections. It began gradually unwinding economic restrictions this week, with housebuilding permitted and all students returning to schools.
One-fifth of adults in Ireland have so far received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
"What we're planning is allowing more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and personal services (in May)," Varadkar told national broadcaster RTE.
The government said last month that it hoped to be able to reopen hotels in June but has not yet said when restaurants and bars may be allowed to trade beyond just takeaway services.
England, which as of April 4 had administered one vaccine dose to 59% of adults and fully vaccinated 17%, reopened all shops, personal care premises and outdoor dining this week.
"Things look great in the UK at the moment but what they're doing is also an experiment, they're opening their country up very quickly at a time when they have half vaccinated half their population," Varadkar told the Newstalk radio station.
"It might look different in three or four weeks. I hope it doesn't, I hope what they're doing is right. We'll see how the experience plays out a bit more in England before we go down that route."
The regional government in British-run Northern Ireland is set to outline its reopening plans later on Thursday.
Ireland's third shutdown in the last year has turned one of the world's highest incidence rates of COVID-19 in January into one of Europe's lowest. The number of cases per 100,000 people measured over the past 14 days has fallen to 132 this week.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Gareth Jones)