Covid restrictions set to be lifted from 6am on Saturday

Cabinet met on Friday on foot of advice from public health bosses that the vast majority of pandemic restrictions can be lifted on a phased basis.

Coronavirus Dublin
Coronavirus Dublin

Cabinet has signed off on plans to lift the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions from Saturday morning.

Workers will return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday, while normal hours will resume in the hospitality industry this weekend, under plans approved on Friday.

Social distancing measures and limits on gatherings will be scrapped, as will the requirement to show Covid-19 passes for access to pubs and restaurants.

Mask-wearing looks set to continue until the end of February, self-isolation will remain in place for symptomatic people and Covid passes will still be needed for international travel.

But all other restrictions will be lifted from 6am on Saturday, sources have told the PA news agency.

Nphet has advised the Government that most pandemic rules can go, but that they should be removed in a phased way.

Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said there was no basis for the restrictions being in place without a public health rationale, but said it could take time to unpick the legislation underpinning them.

He told reporters on Friday: “The Taoiseach will make an announcement at six.

“Certainly, I think the view across Government is that if there’s no longer a public health rationale for any particular restriction, well, then there’s no political rationale for it either.

“But there are things that need to be worked out, to make something that’s currently currently illegal, legal.

“It can require a ministerial order to be rescinded, it sometimes requires primary legislation to be repealed. So it leaves a bit of work today on timing.

“And then also, particularly, a lot of work on the business supports and making sure that they’re not removed too suddenly.”

The Irish Cabinet will meet later to consider recommendations from health chiefs to end most Covid restrictions.

Nphet has recommended restrictions around hospitality can be lifted, including the 8pm curfew and the requirement for a Covid pass to enter premises.

In light of the recommendations, the Restaurants Association of Ireland had urged the Government to allow all hospitality businesses to trade as normal from Friday.

But the Tanaiste has played down the prospect of an immediate lifting of restrictions on hospitality.

“The recommendation from Nphet is on a phased basis. But the detail and the timing around phases, that’s for discussion and decision today,” he said.

Nphet met on Thursday and made a series of recommendations in a letter to ministers.

They include that live venues and sporting venues can return to full capacity, an end of restrictions on the number of household guests and a phased return to work.

However the continued wearing of face masks is recommended on public transport and in retail settings and Covid passes will still be needed for international travel.

Mr Varadkar has warned that the return of restrictions cannot be ruled out, and said some measures, such as mask-wearing, could be retained in the future.

“This is a virus that has surprised us on many occasions, and it’s a virus that likes to rip up our plans,” he said.

“Nobody can rule out another wave after Omicron. Immunity does wane, there will be new variants of concern and of course respiratory viruses spread more easily in wintertime.

“So nobody can nobody can rule out the possibility of a fifth wave. Nobody can say for sure whether that would be mild or severe one.

“But I think that’s why it’s important that we continue to build on some of the changes that have been made during the course the last two years.”

He said the Government will have to continue to increase capacity in hospitals and ICUs, and recruit more doctors, nurses and midwives into the health service.

He added: “And we’re going to need to put in place monitoring systems to make sure that we can identify new variants quickly, identify their spread quickly.

“Also I think there will be a big focus on permanent changes to the way we act as individuals.

“I think we may all choose to wear masks in certain settings in the future, particularly if we have symptoms.

“We may all decide that we don’t go to work or we work from home, if we’ve symptoms in particular.”

Mr Varadkar also praised the Irish people, health care workers and the business sector for their response during the pandemic.

“The only thing I’d say, just a particular thanks to the Irish people. It’s been a very long two years,” he said.

“It’s certainly not over yet, but we’re in a much better place than we were in previously.

“And that is really down to a world-beating vaccine programme. I really want to thank HSE, their staff, their contractors, for all the work they did on that.

“The Irish people for agreeing to be vaccinated, which has made a huge difference and has put us in a better position than a lot of other countries that are really struggling at the moment.

“And also to thank Irish business owners and workers because some people in some sectors have really had a rotten two years and hopefully the future is going to look a little bit brighter for them through the spring.”

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