Tánaiste says he expects 'phased' reopening of society from the end of January

The Tánaiste said he did not expect all restrictions to end overnight at the end of the month.
Tánaiste says he expects 'phased' reopening of society from the end of January

On Sunday, the Tánaiste said he hoped that some restrictions might be lifted “soon”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he expects a “phased” reopening of society from the end of January.

Strict Covid-19 measures, including the closure of nightclubs and a curfew for hospitality venues, were introduced late last year amid fears about the spread of the Omicron variant.

On Sunday, the Tánaiste said he hoped that some restrictions might be lifted “soon”.

Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team are expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the latest in the pandemic.

Ireland is still recording high case numbers, with 965 Covid-positive patients in hospital and 88 people in intensive care as of Sunday morning.

Mr Varadkar said he believed Ireland was “coming to the point where we also need to move on, and we’ve had very strict restrictions in Ireland for two years now. Last summer, and the summer before that, we had the strictest rules”.

He added: “I don’t think that should be the case this summer.

'More ambitious reopening'

“I’ll be pushing for a more ambitious, quicker reopening over the next couple of months.

“Nothing risky, nothing reckless, certainly something that’s in line with our European peers.” 

The Tánaiste said he did not expect all restrictions to end overnight at the end of the month.

“I think it will be phased. I don’t anticipate that we’ll just remove all restrictions at the end of January or the start of February. I think it will be a phased process over the next couple of months,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio.

However, he said that Ireland was among only a handful of countries where it had not been possible to go into the office or stand at a bar for two years.

The Tánaiste said he hoped all restrictions could ease later this year.

He said: “On many occasions we’ve acted out of an abundance of caution. But sometimes an abundance of caution can be an excess of caution. And we need to avoid that.” 

However, Mr Varadkar warned: “We need to make sure that we are able to respond rapidly as well if there is a resurgence of the virus and that is a possibility.” 

He also said it was yet to be determined if some people may require a fourth dose of the vaccine.

Optimism that hospitality restrictions will be lifted 

Speaking to the Echo earlier this week,  Tara Lyng of Dwyers of Cork said they are optimistic that the 8pm restrictions will be lifted at the end of the month. 

"Whilst we have a consistent brunch trade seven days a week, we look forward to the return of our live music schedule and the opportunity for our customers to stay on later into the evening. Operating within the current restrictions means that 6pm is our last sitting for dinner which isn’t sustainable in the long term. We’re fortunate that the design of Dwyers of Cork has worked favourably throughout the pandemic with plentiful booths and snugs meaning that customers feel safe and have constantly reiterated this to us. We’ve invested heavily in our outdoor area and have exciting plans to improve even further this year giving customers the option of dining indoors or outdoors whatever the weather. We’re increasingly optimistic that we will welcome some relaxation of restrictions on us as we enter February."

Shelbourne Bar publican Philip Gillivan said it was important that those in the hospitality sector are given time to prepare for any changes.

“From an operational point of view, we need a lead-in time; we can’t just turn it on and off. We have staff and we need to plan. There is no point telling us at the last minute, knee-jerk reaction stuff,” he said.

Need to extend closing times 

Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) Cork City chairperson Michael O’Donovan said an extension of closing times was needed to restore vibrancy to towns, villages, and cities, and to make them safer.

Mr O’Donovan said the urban hubs of Cork had been dark, dreary, and unwelcoming since the 8pm closing time was introduced, and local communities are suffering.

Mr O’Donovan said the night-time economy brought the city to life.

“Since the start of January, business has been decimated,” he said. “People are working until 5.30pm or 6pm and then, by the time they get home, shower, and get changed, the bars are closed.

“There is nothing happening. It’s like a ghost town and the few places that are open are trying their best to survive.” 

Mr O’Donovan said it had been a long, tough road for staff, with reduced hours, reduced income, and a great deal of uncertainty.

“It’s been a tough road for them,” he said.

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