Almost all Covid restrictions will be lifted in Ireland from 6am on Saturday, the country’s premier Micheal Martin has confirmed.
The only rules to remain in place will be the wearing of masks, self-isolating after testing positive for the virus, and Covid passes for international travel.
A phased return to the workplace will begin from Monday, while normal hours will resume in the hospitality industry this weekend.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin told the nation it was “time to be ourselves again”.
“Today is a good day,” he said in an address from Government Buildings in Dublin.
“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.”
He explained a National Public Health Emergency Team report showed Ireland has “weathered the Omicron storm,” with the rate of infections falling and “all of the key indicators” pointing in the right direction.
“It confirmed that Ireland’s world-class vaccination programme and the rollout of the boosters has utterly transformed our situation,” he said.
The evidence suggested there was no longer justification for keeping most restrictions in place, he said.
But Mr Martin warned the pandemic is not yet over.
“It will still require all of us to be vigilant,” he cautioned.
He said there is likely to be a temporary rise in infections following the easing of restrictions, but the impact would be limited by the scale of vaccination in the population.
He added: “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 may throw at us.”
Guidance on household visits and restrictions on gatherings at indoor and outdoor events will be lifted.
The Covid-19 pass for international travel will remain, due to the prevalence of Covid-19 in other countries.
Masks will still be needed in all locations where they are currently required.
Protective measures will also remain in place in primary and secondary schools.
This will be reviewed at the end of February, when all children aged five to 11 will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, Mr Martin said.
He urged parents to vaccinate their children and speak to their GPs about any concerns they may have.
He said there would be challenges ahead, including vaccinating the developing world.
But he said: “We should all take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come, to appreciate the effort and sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, 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.
“Today’s news would be warmly welcomed by many, but I’m conscious that some among us including our more vulnerable will be feeling some anxiety about re-engaging with others.
“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.”
Mr Martin paid tribute to the public for abiding by “previously unimagined restrictions” and added the government would continue to provide support including the employment wage subsidy scheme.
A further 6,597 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Ireland on Friday. In addition, 4,564 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
As of 8am on Friday, there were 892 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 88 in intensive care.
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