Kenneth Fox and Danielle Walsh Ronan
With the peak of Omicron seemingly over and hospitalisation figures being relatively stable, the Government has decided to ease restrictions in an attempt to move into a new phase of dealing with the Covid-19.
The main restrictions that will be lifted from 6am on Saturday include:
- No limit on household gatherings.
- The 8pm closing time for hospitality and events will no longer be in place.
- There will be no capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor events.
- Covid passes will no longer be needed for hospitality and indoor activities.
The current requirements around face masks will stay in place until the 28th of February, as well as protective measures in schools, early learning and care facilities.
Although almost all restrictions are coming to an end, the Government has urged anyone with Covid-19 symptoms to isolate and get a test, while those who are close contacts should continue to follow the guidance on the HSE website.
Addressing Ireland from Government Buildings in Dublin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin paid tribute to the public for doing what they were asked to do in “previously unimagined restrictions” on their lives.
“Today is a good day, earlier my government colleagues and I met to consider the latest report from the National Public Health Emergency Team,” he said.
“That report confirmed that we have weathered the Omicron storm, it confirmed that the rate of infection is reducing and that all of the key indicators on which we base our decisions have stabilised and are going in the right direction. It confirmed that Ireland’s world-class vaccination programme and the rollout of the boosters has utterly transformed our situation.
“Based on this evidence, we’ve concluded that the rationale and justification for continuing most of our public health restrictions are no longer in place.
“Therefore from 6am tomorrow morning, the majority of public health measures that we have had to live with will be removed.”
Spring is coming.
We need to see each other again,
we need to see each other smile,
we need to sing again. pic.twitter.com/149ZHQLfJx
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 21, 2022
However, Micheál Martin warned that the coronavirus pandemic is not over.
“It will still require all of us to be vigilant. The changes we’re making will likely lead to a temporary rise in infections in the short term, but we are advised that the impact of this rise will be limited by the scale of vaccination in the population,” he said.
“It is important also to say that I can’t promise you there won’t be further twists in this pandemic requiring different decisions in the future, but I do know this, solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today and will get us through whatever else this virus make throw at us.”
He continued: “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.
“For all our faults as a country we have come a long way since this day in 1919, Ireland is now firmly established as an equal among all the nations, and we’ve been a positive force in the world through our arts, our culture, our peacekeeping and our commerce.
“We have done this by having the confidence to be ourselves.
“As we face into our second century as a free democracy and as we navigate this new phase of Covid it is time to be ourselves again.”
The lifting of restrictions on the hospitality sector has been greeted with "relief" from industry representatives.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI), said: “After a nightmare 22 months this is the news our members have been waiting for. The removal of all restrictions this weekend is the green light for pubs to get back to doing what they do best, and I know for a fact they can’t wait.
“Across Ireland there are 7,000 pubs employing 50,000 staff, so the benefits of reopening will be felt everywhere.
"Overnight, we are saying goodbye to vaccine passes, mandatory table service, contact details, six per table, sitting at all times, one-metre social distancing, no pool or darts and the ban on using bar counters. It really is remarkable to see it all coming to an end."
Also reacting to the news, Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said it was a "monumental day for all of hospitality".
"Overall the feelings of joy, relief and excitement are permeating throughout the sector," Mr O'Keefe said.
"We are delighted this has all happened so quickly, the speed with which things have progressed this week has been amazing. Some in the sector were worried this day may never come.
"This is a special moment, but it needs to be said this wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for the unbelievable effort put in by our health service and all our front line workers throughout the pandemic.
"They have done the truly hard and difficult work that has allowed the country to reach this point.
"We have also been very lucky to have seen such a tremendous vaccine rollout and all involved in all these activities deserve the thanks of everyone in hospitality and the rest of the nation."
The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) described the lifting of restrictions as a “new dawn” for the tourism and hospitality industry.
"The removal of restrictions is truly fantastic news for hotel and guesthouse owners and their teams," IHF chief executive Tim Fenn said.
"They have endured a turbulent, uncertain and, at times, deeply stressful period as indeed have their families and the many communities for whom tourism is the only show in town.
"It’s very welcome news too for the many businesses up and down the country that supply our sector, many of them small employers who also rely heavily on tourism and hospitality.
"Meanwhile guests, including couples and families, can finally plan holidays, weddings and gatherings with much-needed confidence, certainty, and anticipation of a very warm welcome."
So emotional after listening to @MichealMartinTD. Epic speech in terms of inclusivity & messaging. A new dawn awaits. Embracing it with every ounce of energy that I have. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it happen #NewBeginnings #TourismRecovery #TodayIsAGoodDay @IHFcomms
— Elaina Fitzgerald Kane (@ElainaFitzKane) January 21, 2022
The IHF also welcomed assurances from the Government that business supports would not be pulled despite the lifting of restrictions.
"While hotels and guesthouses are optimistic for later in the year, business and employment supports are vital in the interim, enabling them to protect employment and position themselves for the recovery," Mr Fenn said.
"The Government’s retention of the EWSS scheme for hospitality businesses is very welcome.
"It is critical that the enhanced levels are retained until the end February with the sliding scale until the end of May.
"Other supports such as a waiver on local authority rates will also be required until businesses get back on their feet. "
The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) said it had been 680 days of “adversity, being unable to work in any meaningful way, of financial hardship, and of major mental anguish and despair”.
“As we face this return to normality we are conscious that this will be another difficult journey for the months ahead,” they said.
“Our sector has been decimated and needs to be rebuilt. The pandemic has questioned our value and identity as professionals, and we must challenge that and improve the recognition and quality of our lives as professionals in this sector.
“We face tomorrow with some apprehension, maybe a sense of disbelief, but most of all with hope and optimism that the worst is behind us and brighter days are ahead.
“We must work towards a better future in ensuring that we, as a sector, never have to endure the hardship that we have experienced for the last 680 days.”
They said financial support will be required to continue as the sector rebuilds.
-Additional reporting by PA