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Covid latest Taoiseach insists 'we've come through Omicron better than expected', as curfew set to lift

Removal of ban on nightclubs is not expected until next month or later

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said we have made it through the Omicron wave of Covid-19 better than expected.

Speaking today, he said that the situation was “positive” but cautioned there may yet be another chapter to the pandemic.

“We have come through Omicron better than we might have expected prior to Christmas.

"The combination of the booster campaign and vaccination allied to the fact that Omicron does not appear to be as virulent as Delta and previous waves has meant that the impact on people in terms of severe illness, death, and ICUs has been much less,” he said on RTÉ radio this morning.

“I think we are entering a new phase.

"I hope to be in a position tomorrow evening to give a comprehensive and clear position in terms of the lifting of restrictions and also how we intend to live with Covid because Covid isn’t going away.

“The original restrictions were until the end of the month. I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than we might have anticipated.”

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Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Government Buildings yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Government Buildings yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Government Buildings yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Mr Martin also urged people to take up the booster shot, saying it was the “best weapon we have” in relation to curbing Covid.

In relation to the €1,000 bonus announced yesterday for public healthcare workers who were on the frontline in the fight against Covid, the Taoiseach said the date for payment has yet to be worked out, and a panel will be set up to decide who gets the payment.

He said everyone would benefit from the extra bank holiday in March, but also acknowledged that there could be categories in the healthcare system with which there could be issues around when it comes to the bonus payment.

“There is some working-through to be done in relation to some areas,” said Mr Martin.

“We’re going to look at certain categories, basically people who were in the frontline who were engaging with the public and with the patients, in particular in the medical and health arena.

"Without the people in the frontline in our health services we couldn’t have come through Covid. They have to be the priority.”

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It comes as pubs and restaurants will be permitted to open until midnight from next week under plans being considered by Government.

Ministers are anxiously awaiting the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), but planning is already under way to ditch the 8pm curfew for the hospitality sector as soon as possible.

The curfew is expected to be dropped at the latest by Friday, January 28, but could be removed even earlier next week.

Ministers are acutely aware of the impact the curfew has had on the hospitality sector and are eager to allow business to return to normal hours.

The removal of all restrictions on the hospitality sector, including the ban on nightclubs, is not expected until next month or later. Other restrictions imposed over Christmas will be lifted on a phased basis.

Restrictions on the number of people permitted at live events will also be relaxed in the coming weeks and plans for dropping the ‘work from home’ order will also be announced.

There is also a push in Government to allow full capacity at stadiums ahead of the Six Nations rugby tournament and the return of the GAA National Football and Hurling Leagues.

The number of people who are allowed to attend weddings will also be increased.

There are also plans to ditch the need for Covid-19 passes for indoor activities, but this will not happen for some time.

Nphet will meet today to examine the latest data on the virus and make a series of recommendations to the Government on removing restrictions.

The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 will meet tomorrow morning ahead of a full Cabinet meeting later in the day.

The Taoiseach will then announce the Government’s plan for reopening society.

There was no discussion about the pandemic at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in anticipation of a lengthy discussion.

There is nervousness among ministers ahead of Nphet’s meeting. However, senior Government figures were yesterday insisting they plan to begin the process of easing restrictions as soon as possible.

“We don’t know what Nphet will recommend but all the indicators are good so the hope is they will clear the way for easing restrictions,” a ­Cabinet minister said.

Yesterday, 6,843 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded while 5,295 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.

There were 910 people in hospital with the virus, 90 of whom were in intensive care units.

Last night, the Taoiseach told his parliamentary party the country is over the peak of the coronavirus.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said restrictions would be “heavily relaxed” throughout February and March.

Mr Varadkar said it appeared “we’re at the end of the Omicron wave” and he expected restrictions would be eased over the next two months.

However, he said he could not “definitely” say the pandemic was over and warned there would be other variants and “immunity will wane over time”.

“Hopefully, that won’t result in a sixth wave but we certainly can’t rule it out,” he said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he expected the Government to start lifting restrictions “quickly” and “widely”.

On Tuesday, Mr Varadkar indicated at a private Fine Gael meeting that all restrictions may be lifted by the end of March.

The emergency legislation underpinning most of the restrictions is due to expire on March 31.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One yesterday, Mr Ryan said the Government would hope to give the public and businesses “advance notice” and indicated there would not be any change to the rules this weekend.

“The position we’re in at the moment is a lot better than it looked a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Culture Minister Catherine Martin said she was “very confident” there would be an increase in numbers at events and a lifting of the 8pm curfew.

She will attend the meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 tomorrow that will make key decisions on reopening dates.

Ms Martin said she would be pushing for increased numbers at outdoor and indoor events.

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