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'good day' Almost all Covid restrictions to be removed, Taoiseach announces

We Irish are more social than most...we need to sing again’

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Nika Byrne and Abby Downing at Dame Tavern, Dublin as Covid-19 restrictions are set to be lifted Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Nika Byrne and Abby Downing at Dame Tavern, Dublin as Covid-19 restrictions are set to be lifted Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Nika Byrne and Abby Downing at Dame Tavern, Dublin as Covid-19 restrictions are set to be lifted Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced the majority of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions are set to be lifted from 6am on Saturday.

In a speech this evening, Mr Martin has given the go-ahead to remove most of the pandemic curbs that have been a part of public life for almost two years.

"Today is a good day,” Mr Martin said.

"We have weathered the Omicron story,” he added, saying the report received from Nphet was positive.

"From 6am tomorrow morning, the majority of public health measures we have lived with will be removed," the Taoiseach said.

"Spring is coming and 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,” he added.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Mr Martin said the Irish people have responded to the pandemic and did what they were asked to do.

"No one should be in any doubt that your collective effort saved thousands of lives. At every stage of this crisis, I have been clear with you. Our journey through the pandmeic has brought many twists and turns but today is a good day."

However, he said the “pandemic isn’t over” and said he could not promise more twists and turns.

"Vaccination is key, the evidence is clear to see. Please if you haven't already, get your vaccine and your booster.

"I want to be clear that the pandemic is still not over, and we all need to remain vigilant. It is important also to say that I can't promise you there won't be further twists in the future."

The Taoiseach said “today’s news will be welcomed by many” but acknowledged that those in vulnerable cohorts may be anxious about the return to normality.

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"For those who do feel like that, I'd ask you to be open about it, share it. We all need to be open with each other, be supportive of each other, mind each other.”

He also poignantly remembered those who passed away during the pandemic.

"To remember and appreciate the lives and contribution of those we lost. We think of all those who died with Covid and indeed all those who passed away over the course of the last two years who we were not able to mourn as we would have liked or as they deserved.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today is a day of hope and a day to look forward "cautiously" to a spring and summer of freedom.

He said if today is not the end it is certainly the "beginning of the end". The Tánaiste said he is aware that workers and businesses have gone through "hell and back".

"While restrictions end tomorrow, financial supports do not. In relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), Minister Humphreys has decided that the planned reductions in weekly payments that were due to happen on February 8 will now be deferred to March 8," he said.

"With the PUP not being phased out fully until April 5. This will allow the roughly 80,000 people still in receipt of the PUP a little bit more time to get their jobs back."

Mr Martin’s speech came 681 days since the speech in Washington by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announcing restrictions nationwide as Covid spread.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the pandemic itself is not over.

"We still have a high case volume in this country and the potential does exist continually for variants we from a public health point of view must maintain vigilance on everybody's behalf in relation to that as advised by the WHO and the ECDC," he said.

"As a result of these continuing high case volumes and high force of infection, we may see an increase particularly in school going children as we move through the vaccination programme and extend the benefits of vaccination to children between the ages of five and 11."

Across the past 24 hours the Irish Independent has reported on the changes that are due to be made.

The hospitality sector will be able to operate normal trading hours without the need for Covid passes or the requirement to maintain contact details for close contact tracing.

Limits on household visits will be scrapped and any number of households will be permitted to gather.

All indoor and outdoor events, including weddings, will be allowed to operate at full capacity.

Distancing between tables in hospitality venues, table service-only and the rule-of-six at a table will also be removed while nightclubs will be allowed to reopen.

From Monday, businesses can begin a phased return to the workplace depending on the circumstances of the workplace and in consultation with employees.

Masks in all settings where they are currently regulated including retail outlets and public transport will be retained until February 28 as will the protective measures in schools and childcare facilities.

The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) will be closed to new entrants from tomorrow (Saturday) with the existing PUP recipients to be transitioned to standard jobseekers’ rate of €208 from March 8, and not February 8 as previously intended.

The transition to full jobseekers’ terms will proceed after that with the first payments into bank accounts on April 5, according to a Cabinet memo prepared for Ministers on Friday.

The memo also outlines plans to extend the enhanced rates of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme for employers impacted by restrictions introduced in December through the month of February with a two-rate subsidy of €151.50 and €203 per week to apply in March and a flat rate of €100 per week to apply for a further two months in April and May.

The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for businesses will not be extended beyond the end of January, but an extra week’s payment will be made to businesses next week.

Day health services and visits to nursing homes will no longer be curtailed on public health grounds.

People who are travelling out of the country will still have to produce EU Digital Covid Certificates and fill in passenger locator forms upon entry into Ireland.

The current public health guidance on close contact, people with symptoms, and those who test positive for Covid-19, which was introduced on January 12, will be reviewed at the end of February.

There is also a possibility that sporting venues will be allowed to return to full capacity over the weekend.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will make an announcement at around 6pm this evening following a meeting of the Cabinet.

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