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Finally: Ireland welcomes end of almost all COVID restrictions, including controversial vaccine pass

The Government has tonight confirmed that almost all COVID restrictions in Ireland will lapse from 6am tomorrow. 

The announcement came after a meeting which was held at 6pm this evening. It comes after plans to remove restrictions went to the Government this afternoon after NPHET advised leadership end most measures, including the use of controversial vaccine certs.

In a speech tonight, Taoiseach Michael Martin said “today’s news will be welcomed by many” but acknowledged that those in vulnerable cohorts may be anxious about the return to normality. Mr Martin gave the go-ahead to scrap most of Ireland’s strict pandemic restrictions that have been part and parcel of public life for almost two years.

“Today is a good day,” Mr Martin said earlier, adding: “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.”

Confirmation from the government means that Irish pubs, restaurants and other hospitality outlets can finally return to business as normal this weekend – and customers will not be asked to present vaccine passports.

It means that Irish pubs, restaurants and other hospitality outlets can finally return to business as normal this weekend – and customers will not be asked to present vaccine passports.

 In the most radical shift since the start of the COVID crisis, vaccine passports are set to be axed; capacity restrictions for outdoor and indoor events, including weddings, will be scrapped; household visits will once again be permitted with no restrictions; nightclubs will welcome back revellers; and the early closing time for hospitality and events will be scrapped.

Long-standing social distancing will go, as will seated only indoor tables, a 6-person table limit, and the requirement to maintain contact details for the track and trace system. A phased return to the office will begin from Monday 24th January. Vaccine or ‘COVID’ passports will only be required for international travel, according to reports, and will no longer be necessary to access activities and venues across Ireland.

The EU Digital COVID pass system was adopted by Ireland in summer 2021, and meant that those who could not provide proof of vaccination for COVID (or a recovery certificate) could not access indoor dining, bars, nightclubs, other venues, and some amenities including the gym. 

It comes as Gript’s John McGuirk appeared on GB News last night to call for the scrapping of vaccine passports in Ireland. The Editor of Gript told viewers: “The disturbing thing is how popular these measures have become in a short space of time.”

The development today has been welcomed as ‘wonderful news’ by many online, after two years of tough restrictions across Ireland – with the country adopting one of the harshest set of restrictions worldwide to deal with COVID. Ministers were told there is a “broadly positive” outlook for Ireland in relation to COVID, with the Omicron variant subsiding.

Mask-wearing will remain a requirement until the 28th February in all settings where it is currently regulated, with mask-wearing in schools and childcare facilities also remaining. However, following the abandonment of most COVID restrictions, the National Parents Council said today that they believe masks in schools must also face the axe.

Today’s Cabinet meeting to discuss NPHET’s advice began at around 3pm and lasted for around 90 minutes. An announcement setting out when the various restrictions will be unwound is expected at roughly 6pm tonight.

Additional supports are to be provided for businesses hit by restrictions introduced in December, who will be given the higher rate of employment wage subsidy scheme (EWSS) for a month after it is due to be reduced from 1st February. Reports state that the EWSS will reduce as planned for other businesses, transitioning to a flat rate subsidy in March and April before 30th April. For those who are receiving extended subsidies – including those who were hit by December restrictions – will continue as a flat rate for April and May.

As a result of restrictions lifting, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will close to new applicants from Saturday. The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, which was altered and expanded last month as fresh restrictions were imposed, will not be extended beyond the end of this month but will remain under review. An extra week’s payment will be given to businesses the week after reopening.

Ireland’s eventual scrapping of most COVID-related restrictions follows Boris Johnson’s sudden removal of restrictions in the UK earlier this week.

“Once regulations lapse, the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere,” Johnson said, as he also announced that vaccine passports are to be scrapped from next Wednesday – an announcement that was met with cheering in Parliament.

Yesterday, Stormont ministers in the North agreed to drop vaccine passports in pubs, restaurants and cinemas from Wednesday 26th January along with the relaxation of a range of other COVID rules – including the rule-of-six at tables and table service rules in hospitality businesses. Face masks could also be dropped after a meeting set to take place in February, with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan saying yesterday that masks should not become “the new normal” across society.

Speaking to Belfast Live after the changes were announced on Thursday night, Mr Givan said: “I don’t want the legal requirement for people to wear face masks in settings where they’re currently provided to be continuing. It shouldn’t be the new normal, it’s not normal for people to have to cover their face and mouth. I would hope we can make progress on that issue at the meeting on February 10.”

Senator Sharon Keoghan was among those in Ireland today to welcome the end of Ireland’s stringent COVID restrictions – but to simultaneously criticise the Government for their handling of COVID and long-standing restrictions which saw Ireland with one of the most restrictive approaches worldwide. Keoghan stated that she believed “the trust the people of Ireland have in this government is gone”. She also said that the Irish people have been let down by the opposition parties on the issue of COVID restrictions.

 

Many, including business owners impacted by restrictive and long-standing COVID measures, said that the approach of the Government, which included locking down businesses, would not be forgotten.

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