Life in Ireland has taken a significant step back to normality with the vast majority of the restrictions on social and economic activity introduced in response to Covid-19 having been lifted on Saturday.
Following a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which said there was “clear evidence” nationally and internationally that the Omicron variant was not generally leading to severe illness, the Taoiseach said “the emergency is over”.
The move will see the 8pm closing time for the hospitality sector lifted with pubs and restaurants able to trade largely without restrictions. The digital Covid pass is no longer required for entry to hospitality, entertainment and leisure venues.
Live events and sporting events can return to full capacity crowds and guidance advising limits on household visits has been removed. Workers across Ireland can return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday.
Small number in place
Only a small number of restrictions remain in place, including the continued requirement to wear masks in settings such as in shops, schools and on public transport; self-isolation rules; and the use of Covid passes for international travel.
In a televised address on Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “time to be ourselves again”.
The relaxations have come swifter than many expected with thousands of cases still being confirmed daily through the State’s testing system.
However, Nphet said the “overall epidemiological position is improving, and the most recent data indicates that we have now passed a peak in this wave of infection” and that Ireland had weathered the Omicron surge.
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.
However, Mr Martin, despite striking an optimistic tone, warned that the pandemic is not over.
“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.”