Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government will be accepting advice from health officials that will bring an end to mandatory mask wearing.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has recommended an end to the mandatory wearing of masks, but they will be advisory in healthcare settings and on public transport.
The changes will come into place on February 28.
Speaking in Brussels, Mr Martin said the Government will be accepting advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
He said: “We are moving from the emergency phase of the pandemic into a new transitionary phase, that’s clearly the case as per the letter from Nphet and the chief medical officer.
“In terms of the evolution so far, they are satisfied in terms of the disease trajectory that we are where they anticipated we would be.
“The pandemic is not over, there is still disease out there but conversion to hospitalisation and ICU is not significant and the chief medical officer is clear that public health rationale no longer applies in terms of retaining regulations around the mandatory wearing of masks.
“Public health will continue and guidance in healthcare settings and public transport.”
Mr Martin said people will make their own decisions in relation to mask-wearing, adding that personal behaviour will be important.
“People may feel more comfortable wearing masks, but they won’t be mandatory,” he added.
The Fianna Fáil leader also said Dr Holohan recommended the winding down of Nphet.
“Government is accepting the advice of Nphet in its entirety but we will need a range of advices still and over the next while to see how the system can withstand more variants or perhaps future diseases that may emerge,” he added.
Mr Martin rejected suggestions of any rivalry between Nphet and the Government, but said there were tensions.
“I wouldn’t describe it as rivalry at all. I have been very consistent, even when I was in opposition, that public health advice had to be central to our management of Covid-19 and it has been,” he added.
“I want to pay tribute to Nphet and thank all the members of Nphet for the work they have done.
“Public health is important in terms of combating a pandemic of this kind. We saw other jurisdictions where public health advice was put to one side with very negative consequences for the people in such jurisdictions.
“Of course there will be tensions and different perspectives in terms of advices, but if you look at mortality rates in Ireland relative to others, I think Ireland has performed relatively well in relation to Covid-19.
“There are lessons to be learned but overall I thank Nphet for the work it did as part of a wider approach from Government to what has been a once-in-a-hundred-year kind of event.
“We think of all those who lost their life as a result of Covid-19 and on March 20 we will remember those and reflect on the impact of Covid.
“We have to make our system more durable, create a more permanent, stronger and durable public health system.”
The recommendations came following a meeting of Nphet on Thursday.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the current epidemiological profile of Covid-19 continues to “provide a broadly stable and positive outlook”.
He said: “The advice from Nphet to remove mandatory mask-wearing is a key indicator that we are moving forward in terms of our ability to live with Covid-19.
“Our ability to ease restrictions is thanks to the response and support of people across the country and our successful vaccine programme.
“I welcome these recommendations and I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the Nphet for their expertise, commitment and guidance through what has been such a difficult period. Their contribution cannot be overstated.”
In his letter to Mr Donnelly, Dr Holohan said: “Nphet concluded that there is no longer a continuing public health rationale for retaining them and advised that the following measures could be removed with effect from 28th February as planned.
“Mandatory mask wearing in areas where it is currently regulated for, including: public transport, taxis, retail and other indoor public settings, and staff in hospitality settings.
“Public health measures in early learning settings, school-aged childcare, primary and secondary schools, including physical distancing measures such as pods, and mask wearing.”