'Time to be ourselves again': Taoiseach announces end to almost all Covid restrictions

'Time to be ourselves again': Taoiseach announces end to almost all Covid restrictions

Members of the public enjoy a drink as they watch Taoiseach Micheal Martin on the television in Doheny & Nesbitt's, Dublin, as he announces the end of most public health restrictions from 6am tomorrow morning. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

Taoiseach Micheàl Martin has confirmed that almost all Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted from 6am on Saturday in his 23rd state of the nation address this evening.

Announcing an end to almost all Covid restrictions, the Taoiseach has said it is now time to "be ourselves again".

Solidarity with each other and trust in science has got this country to a place where the vast majority of restrictions can be lifted, Micheál Martin has said.

He said there have been many twists and turns along the pandemic path but "today is a good day".

On Friday, the Cabinet signed off plans to lift all regulations – except for mask-wearing, self-isolation and Covid passes for international travel – from 6am on Saturday.

A report from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has advised Government that Ireland has “weathered the Omicron storm” and that all the key indicators have stabilised and are going in the right direction.

The lifting of restrictions, including an end to social distancing, the scrapping limits on capacity for all indoor events, including weddings and sporting fixtures, as well as dropping the requirement for Covid passes for hospitality will come into force from 6am, Mr Martin added.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressing the nation at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressing the nation at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture: Julien Behal/PA Wire

"We should all take a moment to appreciate how far we've come, to appreciate the effort and sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm's way to keep us safe to remember and appreciate the lives and contribution of those we lost. We think of all those who died with Covid and indeed, all those who passed away over the course of the last two years who we were not able to mourn as we would have liked or as they deserved," he said.

Pointing to the first Dáil of 1919, Mr Martin said the relationship and trust between the people and the Government of Ireland has always been "very precious and powerful".

"It meant that when our country was hit with this unprecedented health emergency when your government asked extraordinary things of you, introduced previously unimagined restrictions on your lives, you responded, you did what you were asked to do."

Guidance on household visits and restrictions on gatherings at indoor and outdoor events will be lifted.

The Covid-19 pass for international travel will remain, due to the Covid-19 situation in other countries.

Masks will still be needed in all the locations where they are currently required.

Protective measures will also remain in place in primary and secondary schools.

Mr Martin strongly encouraged all parents to talk to their GP about any concerns they may have in getting their children vaccinated.

"Please if you haven't already, get your vaccine, get your booster," he said in his televised address.

Mr Martin told the nation: "Spring is coming and I don't know if I've ever looked forward to one as much as I'm looking forward to this one.

"Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most. As we look forward to this Spring, we need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again."

 Deputy Leader of the Green Party Catherine Martin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at the Department of Health at a press conference at Government Buildings this evening. Picture: Julien Behal.
Deputy Leader of the Green Party Catherine Martin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at the Department of Health at a press conference at Government Buildings this evening. Picture: Julien Behal.

Arts Minister Catherine Martin confirmed the scale of the lifting of restrictions, saying that the St Patrick's Day parades will go ahead as normal. She said that €2m has been committed to the events.

"The department is funding over €2m in the events for that day and there will also be strong online content as well.

“All of this is being worked on and has been worked on that – we’re doing contingency plans behind the scenes but we’re delighted now that the physical parade will take place and we’ll announce those details soon.” 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government can't rule out a "6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th" wave of Covid, but says that the challenge is surveillance, ensuring that we spot outbreaks and ensuring that the health service was equipped to deal with any further waves.

Chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said that he was aware that some people would feel worried that the reopening was coming too quickly, but said that the high rate of vaccination, personal behaviour and the less severe effects of the Omicron variant meant it was safe and possible.

However, both he and Mr Martin said that the pandemic is not over.

 

What will change:

From 6am on January 22, the following restrictions will be removed:

– Guidance in relation to household visiting

– Early closing time for hospitality and events

– Capacity restrictions for outdoor events, including sporting fixtures

– Capacity restrictions for indoor events, including weddings.

– Restrictions on nightclubs

– Requirements to have a valid Digital Covid Certificate to enter various premises will be removed.

From January 24, a return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence on a phased basis appropriate to each sector.

A number of public health measures will remain in place until February 28:

– Requirements for mask wearing in all settings where currently regulated for

– Protective measures in schools and early learning and care facilities

  - Additional reporting from PA

'A day to be proud of our nation'

Almost all Covid measures, including the need for a Digital Covid Certificate for bars and restaurants, the 8pm curfew, and other social distancing rules will come to an end tomorrow morning.
Almost all Covid measures, including the need for a Digital Covid Certificate for bars and restaurants, the 8pm curfew, and other social distancing rules will come to an end tomorrow morning.

Early closing and limits on table numbers in hospitality, guidance around household visits as well as caps on attendance at events including weddings will be lifted from 6am on Saturday.

Almost all Covid measures, including the need for a Digital Covid Certificate for bars and restaurants, the 8pm curfew, and other social distancing rules will come to an end tomorrow morning.

Rules including physical distancing between tables and table service in pubs and restaurants will not be required. Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen.

Significantly the requirement to provide a Covid cert will no longer be in place across all venues, which will no longer have to keep records for contact tracing. However, the certs will remain in place for international travel.

The limit on the numbers that can visit other households and limits on the number of guests at weddings will also lifted.

A small number of measures will be retained until February 28, including the wearing of masks across public transport, retail and healthcare.
A small number of measures will be retained until February 28, including the wearing of masks across public transport, retail and healthcare.

Workers will be allowed to return to the office on a phased basis from next Monday, however, businesses will be asked to consult with workers on the staggered return to the office.

A small number of measures will be retained until February 28, including the wearing of masks across public transport, retail and healthcare.

Protective measures in schools and early learning centres such as pods and the wearing of face masks will also remain in place.

All of these measures are likely to be reviewed ahead of February 28.

The rules around close contacts announced by the Government earlier this month will also be reviewed at that time.

As of tomorrow, entrance to the Pandemic Unemployment Scheme will be closed, with those in receipt transitioning to the Jobseekers' Rate on March 8.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will have enhanced rates for employers impacted by restrictions in December through February with a two-rate subsidy of €151.50 and €203 per week to apply in March and a flat rate of €100 per week for April and May.

The Cabinet met this afternoon to review Covid measures and have agreed that almost all restrictions will be lifted.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that today was "a day to be proud of our nation" as ministers meet to discuss the removal of most Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Donnelly added that today was also one to give thanks to healthcare workers for their work during the pandemic.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris also said that the restrictions would be lifted as soon as the "public health rationale" expired.

Health officials last night recommended the ending of most Covid-19 restrictions in the coming days.

The optimistic advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will put the end in sight after almost two years of restrictions.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that today was "a day to be proud of our nation" as ministers meet to discuss the removal of most Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that today was "a day to be proud of our nation" as ministers meet to discuss the removal of most Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan advised government that there is no longer a public health rationale for the majority of Covid-19 measures.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the view across Government was that “if there’s no longer a public health rationale for a restriction, there’s no political rationale for it either.” 

While not being drawn on the specifics, he said that "some work is needed" to sort out when certain measures, which are underpinned by regulation or primary legislation can be removed.

"There are things that need to be worked out. To make something that’s currently illegal legal can require a ministerial order to be rescinded, it sometimes requires primary legislation to be repealed, so we need to do a bit of work today on the timing," he said.

Peak has passed

Nphet met yesterday and, in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, it suggested the end of two-metre social distancing, as well as the removal of caps on event attendance, guidance on household visits, and restrictions on hospitality as soon as the Government deems appropriate.

Nphet went further than many in government had expected in its recommendations. 

That includes not recommending the continued use of vaccine passes in most venues, and advising that working from home can end on a phased basis. 

Nightclubs will also be permitted to reopen under the new plans, with Nphet telling the Government that there is no longer a rationale for most restrictions.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan advised government that there is no longer and public health rationale for the majority of Covid-19 measures. Picture: RollingNews.ie
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan advised government that there is no longer and public health rationale for the majority of Covid-19 measures. Picture: RollingNews.ie

The advice does suggest that mask-wearing, isolation for symptomatic cases, and Covid passes for international travel will remain in place but a return to full capacity sporting events is on the cards as soon as the Government deems it to be appropriate, sources said.

While Nphet has stated it is safe to remove most measures, it has not set out any timelines and that has raised an expectation that ministers could ease some restrictions immediately. 

However, it's understood that most restrictions will be lifted starting next week and not at the weekend.

One Nphet source said that the advice was optimistic, but said that there is still a long way to go until Covid-19 is a thing of the past.

Within Government, there was optimism about how Ireland had weathered the Omicron wave of Covid-19, with case numbers now more than half their peak.

Responding to the news, representatives of the hospitality sector urged government to implement the changes immediately.

Donall O'Keeffe of the Licensed Vintners Association said pubs are "ready and waiting" to open their doors.

If the Government gives the green light then the recovery of the hospitality and night time sectors could begin as early as Friday night.

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland echoed this sentiment and called for the Government to allow "all hospitality businesses trade as normal" from Friday.

Earlier in the day, Taoiseach Micheál Martin had signalled that many restrictions were set to come to an end.

"The situation is positive. We have come through Omicron better than we might have expected prior to Christmas," he said.

Mr Martin said he will give a "clear and comprehensive statement about what lies ahead both in the short term and in the medium term" after the Cabinet meets on Friday.

"I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than we might have anticipated," he said.

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