By David Young, PA
Optimism was in ample supply in cities and towns across Ireland on Saturday after a sweeping relaxation of Covid rules.
The country has taken a significant stride back to normality with the lifting of the majority of curbs on society.
The moves announced by the Government on Friday evening came into effect at 6am on Saturday.
An 8pm curfew on the hospitality sector has gone, with pubs and restaurants able to trade restriction-free and without the need for social distancing.
Covid certification passes are no longer required to gain entry to hospitality, entertainment and leisure outlets.
Spirits were high in Dublin city centre on Saturday afternoon, with pubs and bars starting to get busy from lunchtime.
Daniel Smith, a barman at Grogans pub, said the atmosphere was “brilliant”.
He added: “Obviously it’s a great day. It’s been a long time coming – this is 22 months in the making now.
“To finally get back feels a bit surreal. Plenty of times during the last two years we didn’t think we’d ever make this day, so to finally get back there is special.”
Live events and sporting events can now return to full capacity, with bumper crowds expected at several fixtures across the weekend.
Guidance advising limits on household visits has been removed and workers across Ireland will return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday.
Only a small number of restrictions remain in place, including the continued requirement to wear masks in settings such as shops, schools and on public transport; self-isolation rules; and the use of Covid passes for international travel.
In a televised address on Friday, premier Micheal Martin told the nation it is “time to be ourselves again”.
The relaxations have come swifter than many expected.
They were made possible after health experts in the National Public Health Emergency Team advised Government there was no longer a public health rationale for keeping the measures in place, with the country having weathered the Omicron storm.
Protective measures will remain in place in primary and secondary schools until at least the end of February. They will be reviewed at that point, by which time all children aged five to 11 will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Taoiseach Mr Martin warned the coronavirus pandemic is not over.
But he added: “Spring is coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one.
“Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.
“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.
“As we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.”