With October 22nd once slated as the date Ireland would lift most remaining Covid-19 restrictions, any further reopening was thrown into doubt as indicators of the disease worsened in recent weeks.
The Cabinet met this morning to decide which remaining restrictions can be eased from Friday, amid a sharp rise in cases accompanied by increasing hospitalisations.
As 1,578 new cases were reported on Monday, with 473 people now in hospital and 74 in intensive care, here is Ireland’s new path forward explained.
What restrictions were due to lift on October 22nd?
Since August, the Cabinet had been planning to lift or ease restrictions from October 22nd on:
- Social distancing requirements in most indoor and outdoor settings, allowing a return to full capacity for outdoor venues and lifting limits on numbers at indoor events.
- Mask wearing requirements for outdoors and in indoor private settings.
- Limited numbers permitted to attend religious and civil ceremonies and private gatherings.
- Vaccine certificate requirements to gain entry to indoors in pubs and restaurants.
What advice has the Government received?
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that measures such as mask wearing and social distancing should not be removed until February 2022.
In a letter to Government Ministers, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned the epidemiological situation in Ireland has deteriorated and is now uncertain and precarious.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly this morning said that Government has been advised that it can continue with its reopening of society, subject to the "widespread" use of the Covid vaccine or recovery certificate and other protective measures.
So what has the Cabinet decided today?
Everything that has reopened will remain open, the Taoiseach has confirmed. The Government will also proceed with its reopening plan, with certain adjustments or restrictions.
Mask wearing indoors and social distancing in various settings is set to continue until February 2022.
Sectors due to reopen on October 22nd, including aspects of the hospitality, entertainment and night-time economy sectors, may only do so if all customers produce a Covid vaccine or recovery pass. They must also have a "full range of protective measures in place".
Covid vaccine or recovery passes will not apply for outdoor events, but will for indoors.
Fixed capacity limits will no longer apply for indoor and outdoor group activities, but protective measures such as mask wearing and social distancing should be in place. Where indoor groups have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, pods of six should apply.
Nightclubs will be subject to specific protective measures, including the use of Covid vaccine or recovery passes, collection of contact tracing data and the wearing of facemasks except when eating, drinking and dancing.
Hospitality must continue with table service only, with a maximum of 10 adults or a maximum of 15 people when including children. Collection of contact tracing data will also continue.
Audiences at indoor live music, drama, live entertainment or sporting events should be fully seated.
Religious services and weddings will have no capacity limits, but all other protective measures will in place.
A return to workplaces on a "phased and cautious" basis will continue, however, those who "can and want to" continue working from home should be facilitated.
Antigen testing will have an enhanced role throughout society, with tests sent to fully vaccinated close contacts of confirmed cases. The Taoiseach said work is under way to allow antigen tests to also "further improve the safety of certain events and activities".
International travel will still require of proof of vaccination, recovery or of a negative PCR test for Covid upon arrival into the State. However, the mandatory hotel quarantine system is being wound down and home quarantine requirements will be removed.
What will happen to Covid case numbers?
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland is not past the peak of the Delta variant wave and said it is likely the country is now experiencing a “twin peak”.
According to Nphet projections, case numbers will peak at the end of October or November.
Hospitalisations will peak in mid-November, and ICU numbers will peak at around 100 to 150 people at the end of November.
Was a reopening pause considered?
The Tánaiste said Nphet considered a full pause of Ireland's reopening, but recommended against it on the basis that the situation “will not be much different” in few weeks’ time.
“It will be like this for at least the next couple of months,” Mr Varadkar said, adding that if Ireland was facing the same numbers last year prior to its vaccine rollout, the Government would be reimposing restrictions.
What about vaccines?
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the country is in a “much different position to last year” due to its high rate of Covid vaccine uptake.
Amid concerns regarding waning immunity, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) last night gave approval for the provision of Covid vaccine booster shots to all over-60s in Ireland.
With hundreds of thousands of people in line to receive the extra jab, over-60s could receive shots in their GP surgeries, while mass-vaccination centres could be restarted before the end of the month.