By Cate McCurry, PA
The return to offices and workplaces by workers across the State from Monday is evidence of the success of the Covid-19 public health strategy, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin said it was an important day for the economy, and society as a whole, made possible by the “exceptional progress” in vaccinating more than 90 per cent of the adult population.
He paid tribute to the “continued and consistent hard work of the Irish people” and said society could look forward to the further removal of public health restrictions, to be replaced by guidance and advice.
While cautioning that “we cannot let our guard down”, he said the Government was planning to mark “in the coming weeks”, the sacrifice and efforts of frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19.
“We will ask too how we can best honour and commemorate all those who lost their lives in this terrible and unprecedented pandemic,” he said.
Traffic volumes were high on all main routes in and out of the capital and regional cities on Monday morning as thousands of workers returned to the office for the first time in more than 18 months.
Staff can now go back to offices throughout the country in a phased and staggered basis, marking a big step in Ireland’s exit out of lockdown restrictions.
In guidelines published by the Government, employers have been urged to develop a long-term return to work policy, which will allow for workplaces to open for “specific business requirements”.
For many workers, it will be the first time they will step back into an office since March 2020, marking an end of full-time working from home.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said the Government wants to make remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life.
Mr Varadkar said: “From (today), the public health advice no longer requires working from home and a phased return to the office begins.
“I know many are looking forward to returning to the office, to see their colleagues who they’ve only seen through a screen for the past 18 months, in person.
“For those who were recruited during the pandemic, it will be the first time ever they’ve been in the office or met their co-workers – even after over a year working together in some cases.
“The pandemic has taught us what’s possible in terms of remote working. It transformed the world of work overnight.
“I hope we can learn something from what worked for workers and employers during that time and incorporate it post-Covid.
“We really want to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life.
“I hope employers are speaking to their staff to figure out what works best for them and the business as this phased return begins.”
🗓️From 20 September, the return to workplaces will begin in a cautious and careful manner.
⚠️It is critical that anyone with symptoms of #COVID19 should not attend work.
💬Employers should consult with workers ahead of returning. See the updated Work Safely Protocol for more.
— Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (@DeptEnterprise) September 17, 2021
Other restrictions will lift from today including an increase in the number of people allowed to attend indoor dance, yoga, pilates studios, art classes and indoor sports and fitness classes, provided people are immune from the disease.
A requirement to maintain pods of six participants will be in place where those attending have mixed immunity status.
All restrictions on outdoor group activities have also been removed, meaning no upper limit on numbers.
Ireland has one of the best vaccine uptake rates in the world, with more than 90 per cent of people over the age of 16 now fully vaccinated.
The next phase in lifting restrictions is set for October 22nd, which will see the vast majority of remaining restrictions removed.
Mask-wearing will remain in place for public transport, retail and healthcare settings.