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Varadkar says some restrictions may take longer than others to be lifted

NPHET last night gave the green light for almost all restrictions to be removed.

Deliveries to pubs in Dublin yesterday morning.
Deliveries to pubs in Dublin yesterday morning.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Jan 21st 2022, 12:30 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said the timing of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions will be discussed by Cabinet today but that some restrictions may take time to be removed. 

The Fine Gael leader said that once the public health rationale for restrictions are removed “there’s no political rationale either”. 

Varadkar was speaking outside Government Buildings ahead of a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

Following their meeting, Cabinet will meet at 3pm to discuss consider recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team that almost all Covid-19 restrictions can be ended. 

The Taoiseach will address the country on the easing of restrictions at 6pm this evening.

Cabinet is set to discuss the timing of the lifting of restrictions, with hospitality groups urging the government to lift them as soon as this evening. 

“Obviously some things can be done quickly because they’re just guidance but other restrictions require legislation to be rescinded or repealed. We have all those details to be worked out today,” Varadkar told reporters. 

Certainly, I think the view across government is that if there’s no longer a public health rationale for any particular restriction, well then there’s no political rationale for it either. But there are things that need to be worked out to make something illegal legal and that can require a ministerial order to be rescinded, sometimes it requires primary legislation to be repealed.

“So what we we need to do today is to work on the timing and then also particularly a lot of work the business supports and making sure that they’re not removed to to suddenly.”

Last night, NPHET gave the green light for almost all restrictions to be lifted, including the 8pm hospitality curfew, attendance limits at events and the requirement for a Covid pass to enter premises.

The recommendations were contained in a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan sent to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last night.

The CMO said there’s no longer a public health rationale for the majority of measures that are currently in place.

Guidance regarding household visits is also set to be removed. But mask-wearing, the Covid Cert for international travel and isolation rules for those who have symptoms of the coronavirus disease will remain in place. 

A date for measures to be rescinded has not been decided, leaving the final decision to the government. Varadkar did not speculate on the timing of the lifting of restrictions but stressed that NPHET have recommended a phased approach. 

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said this morning that restrictions “absolutely” should be lifted tonight.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said: “We’ve heard over the last two years that we should always follow public health advice. The public health advice is now to lift restrictions, and the government can lift the restrictions with immediate effect if they so wish.”

We’re saying to the government now lift the 8pm ban on businesses having to have customers off the premises. That’s a very easy thing to do to return to normal trading hours.

He said businesses that are ready to open with immediate effect should be allowed to do so.

“There will be some businesses that may not have the stock, but they will get themselves ready as quickly as possible, but give the opportunity to those businesses now to trade into normal trading hours tonight. That’s what we need to do.”

However, Cummins said he expects that some people will remain cautious and avoid returning to bars and restaurants right away.

“There will be part of the population that will be cautious around Covid, and they should be. We should have caution around Covid into the future. We have to live a Covid into the future, it is going to be here and we need to make sure that if there is another variant in the future – hopefully, we don’t have one – but we are prepared for that,” he said.

He also said that he would like the Covid support payments that were given to businesses in December when restrictions were put in place to be extended for a further two months.

“We’ve had nearly 23 months of restrictions in hospitality. I think it’s only right that we have an engaging conversation with government around those payments,” he said.

“From an industry that has been economically flattened, for many businesses that will probably be on the edge of collapse when those payments are gone, I think we have to have that conversation with government as soon as possible.”

Tony Walker, general manager of the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan, said it is an “amazing day” for hospitality and that he expects restrictions to be lifted with immediate effect.

“They locked us down quickly, so let us open quickly,” he said.

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He said that he hopes the restrictions around how many guests can attend weddings are lifted, as they make up around 30-35% of his business.

“In our case, 45% of our business are couples from Northern Ireland choosing to get married with us, and at the moment, there are no caps on numbers for weddings in the north of Ireland, so that has been a challenge for us as a business,” he said.

“Removing this cap today on numbers will ease a lot of this uncertainty that is in place currently for couples who are planning that their big day over the months ahead.”

Following reports of NPHET’s advice last night, the Restaurant’s Association of Ireland called on the government to allow all hospitality businesses trade as normal from tomorrow.

The comments were echoed by Donall O’Keeffe of the Licensed Vintners Association.

“Hospitality is ready and waiting to open our doors this weekend. If the Government gives the green light then the recovery of the hospitality and night-time sectors could begin as early as Friday night,” he said.

Warning

While the outlook is optimistic, Dr David Nabarro of the WHO said that while Omicron had changed the landscape of Covid worldwide, a return to restrictions in the future should not be completely ruled out. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, Nabarro said that governments are keen to help people get back to some measure of social and economic activity that’s familiar to them.

“This virus is still moving around in societies actually, it’s moving around faster than ever, and it’s still causing quite a lot of illness. So I would prefer to see a phased approach, if that’s possible. I’m not in a political position so I don’t know what the limitations are. But it makes sense to me that we continue to treat this virus with respect and we also do everything possible to protect people who might perhaps get severely ill as a result of infection from doing so.

“One of the things I want everybody to be aware of is that the public health experts may need to ask people in a particular part of the country to go back into some degree of movement restriction and to be continuing to be careful, and that is exactly as it should be.”

About the author:

Jane Moore

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