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'Freedom day' Thousands of businesses reopen their doors as workers begin return to office

All those attending these indoor spaces must be fully vaccinated or prove they are immune due to recent recovery from Covid-19

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Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar

Thousands of businesses will reopen for the first time today in more than 18 months.

Not only will many people return to work in an office for the first time since the start of the pandemic, many businesses including indoor dance, yoga and Pilates studios, art classes and indoor sports and fitness classes will open for up to 100 people.

All those attending these indoor spaces must be fully vaccinated or prove they are immune due to recent recovery from Covid-19.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland was entering a "new phase" of easing restrictions.

All restrictions on outdoor group activities will also be removed, meaning there will be no upper limit on numbers.

Mr Varadkar said today will be "a big day for thousands of businesses who are opening their doors for the first time since the pandemic and thousands of more people getting back to work".

"It has been an incredibly challenging 18 months for those running indoor activities. Business owners have had to make huge changes to their business, from moving outdoors to moving online. Your efforts to date have doubtless saved lives," he added.

He said it was thanks to the success of the vaccination programme that Ireland was in a position to ease restrictions further.

More than 90pc of those aged over 16 are now fully vaccinated, the highest rate in the EU.

Indoor exercise, bands, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, chess, bridge and other activities return today.

"We are now one of the best in the world for vaccine uptake, 90pc of people over 16 are now double-jabbed. It's a testament to the Irish people for trusting the science, trusting our health care professionals and protecting each other," said Mr Varadkar.

"I wish all those returning to work for the first time, the very best and thank you for all you have done over the pandemic."

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He said he hopes Ireland has learned lessons the pandemic has taught about the world of work and "what's possible in terms of remote working".

"It transformed the world of work overnight. I hope we can learn something from what worked for workers and employers during that time and incorporate it post-Covid. We really want to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life," Mr Varadkar said.

"I hope employers are speaking to their staff to figure out what works best for them and the business as this phased return begins."

He was speaking as another 1,224 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday. Yesterday morning there were 278 patients in hospital with the virus, of whom 63 were in ICU.

Meanwhile, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has reassured older people that they can continue to socialise safely during autumn and winter, as he called on those who remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 to get the jab.

In a statement issued yesterday, he said the pandemic has had "a disproportionate impact on our older people".

Dr Holohan said he was "particularly mindful" that older people will be anxious moving into autumn and winter.

"Many people in this cohort have concerns about how we can all continue to socialise safely and take part in the social and physical activities that keep us connected to our friends, families and wider communities," he said.

Vaccination, including adherence to the public health advice, "will break the chains of transmission and drive down incidence of Covid-19 in our communities", he added.

This would allow "all of us to safely and considerately enjoy the activities that were necessarily paused for large parts of the last 18 months".

"Continue to regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate, keep your distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces, avoid crowds and choose outdoors where possible," he said.

"This suite of measures will also help stop the transmission of seasonal influenza, common colds and other respiratory illnesses that are more prevalent over winter.

"As we move into this next phase of the pandemic, the most important action to take is - if you display symptoms of Covid-19 like cough, fever, headache, sore throat and blocked or runny nose - isolate and contact your GP, who will advise if you need to arrange a test."

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