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'A new phase of the pandemic': Taoiseach announces plan for final easing of Covid restrictions

The Taoiseach delivered an address to the nation this evening.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Image: Julien Behal via RollingNews.ie

Updated Aug 31st 2021, 6:14 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has announced the plan for the final easing of Covid-19 restrictions. 

“The evidence is clear and incontrovertible – your effort and your sacrifice has saved lives,” Martin said in a speech this evening.

He added: “Because of the effort of our vaccination team and because you have stepped up to the mark and taken the vaccine when it was offered, we are now entering a whole new phase of the pandemic.” 

The Taoiseach addressed the nation this evening after the Cabinet signed off on the plan for the final easing of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Martin said the “time is now right to begin to move from regulation and widespread restrictions on people’s personal freedom to an approach primarily defined by public health advice, personal judgement and responsibility”. 

However, he did warn that “if a new dangerous variant of concern emerges or if our hospitals come under unsustainable pressure again, we will move quickly to respond to the situation”. 

The Taoiseach said the country was taking an important and welcome step forward, noting that over generations the Irish people had borne many ordeals.

“Over last 18 months we have drawn on all of that and endured,” he said.

The country would push on and in the coming months would embark on a winter vaccine booster programme, Martin said. The State would also continue to help making vaccines available to people all over world, he added.

The focus, he concluded, would be on rebuilding the economy and society – and those aims would be approached with “renewed energy and determination”.

6 September and 20 September are two of the key dates in the phased easing of restrictions.

Masks will still be expected to be worn in some settings, such as on public transport, retail and healthcare settings.

Public transport will tomorrow return to full capacity.

6 September

Live indoor music will be permitted having regard to appropriate protective factors, including at weddings, from Monday 6 September.

There will be no change to the current limit of 100 guests at weddings during September.

From that date, live events will be allowed to take place with 60% of an indoor venue’s capacity permitted where all patrons are immune (fully vaccinated people and those recovered from Covid-19 within the previous six months) and 75% of outdoor capacity where all attendees are immune.

From 6 September, all religious ceremonies will be allowed to proceed with 50% of venue capacity, regardless of immunity status of attendees. 

20 September

From 20 September, organised indoor group activities (such as sports, arts and dance classes) can take place for up to 100 people where all attendees are immune or accompanied minors. 

Where attendees have mixed immunity status, pods of up to six participants will be permitted. 

Restrictions on outdoor group activities will be removed. 

Attendance at work for specific business requirements may commence on a phased and staggered attendance basis from 20 September. 

October

October is set to see the majority of restrictions lifted and replaced by guidance and advice based on personal judgement and responsibility.

From 22 October, final restrictions will be lifted including: 

  • Requirements for physical distancing
  • Requirements for mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings
  • Limits on numbers at indoor and outdoor events and activities
  • Restrictions on religious or civil ceremonies
  • Limits on numbers that can meet in private homes/gardens
  • Certification of vaccination, immunity or testing as a prerequisite for access to, or engagement in, any activities or events (with exception of international travel)
  • Restrictions on high-risk activities (nightclubs for example)

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Measures that will remain in place include self-isolation when people have symptoms and mask wearing in healthcare settings, indoor retail and on public transport.

Addressing the nation this evening, the Taoiseach said he has “never believed that there would be a day when we were just able to announce that the pandemic was ‘over’”.

“This would be entirely the wrong message to send and it would undermine our ability to respond properly to new developments,” Martin said. 

“We are very unlikely to ever be able to be rid of the virus completely. Indeed, we expect to see an increase in case numbers over the coming weeks,” he said. 

“But the combined strategy of careful reopening and energetic vaccination has brought us to a point where we can begin to do things differently.” 

NPHET scaled back 

Meanwhile, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is expected to be scaled back from 22 October.

NPHET and its sub-groups will move out of the ‘emergency phase’ of the pandemic in a planned move lead by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. 

Public health experts will still be available to advise Government but it is expected a smaller team lead by the Department of Health will be put in place.

Individual members of NPHET will revert to their original posts and duties with press briefings unlikely to take place after October. 

Additional reporting by Christina Finn, Orla Dwyer & Cónal Thomas

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