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At a glance: What are the new reopening plans?

Rising Covid case numbers and hospitalisations saw the government take a more cautious approach to the loosening of restrictions.

THIS FRIDAY WAS scheduled to see all remaining Covid-19 restrictions lifted, however increasing Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks have seen the Government take a more nuanced approach.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed this afternoon that the advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was to keep these protective measures in place until February and the government will follow that advice.

In a 12-page letter, NPHET told the Government that the criteria required to allow the relaxing of most public health measures had not been met, and warned about the “precarious’”Covid situation ahead of today’s limited loosening of restrictions.

NPHET did give some space to ease more restrictions, but only if the enforcement of vaccine passes, social distancing and mask-wearing remained in place.

From Friday, what’s changing and what isn’t?

Indoor and outdoor activities 

Overall, Martin confirmed that from Friday, Covid-19 Digital Certificates will continue to be required for indoor hospitality and events.

In hospitality venues, table service only will continue with a maximum of 10 others per table, or 15 including children.

Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen as planned this Friday – but new advice specifically for the sector is being developed, and has yet to be released.

In a government document released this afternoon, it was confirmed that:

  • Specific sectoral guidance will be developed for nightclubs setting out appropriate protective measures.
  • This will involve Covid-19 passes, contact tracing data collection and wearing of facemasks except when eating, drinking and dancing

There was no clarification given on capacity numbers in nightclubs.

In relation to live events, the government confirmed:

  • for indoor live music, drama, live entertainment and sporting events audience/spectators should be fully seated (standing permitted at your seat)

This would affect any standing-only events booked in by Irish promoters from 22 October.

For outdoor events, Covid-19 vaccination certs will not apply for admission to but mask-wearing will be encouraged.

This decision removes capacity restrictions from Irish sports stadia for the first time since Covid measures were first introduced in Ireland in March 2020.

Restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend weddings and religious ceremonies have been removed. However, protective measures will remain in place.

These measures include that wedding receptions must be a sit-down meal only, live entertainment is permitted at the reception and ceremony, dancing is permitted but guests should emphasise personal responsibility.

The guidelines also say that the closing time for food and beverage facilities at hotels and guesthouses is 11.30pm. (TheJournal has sought clarification on this)

Back to the office?

The return to workplaces can continue on a “phased and cautious basis” for specific business requirements. 

A full return to physical attendance in workplaces was expected to be allowed on a “phased and cautious basis” from Friday, however, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar estimates that a full return to physical attendance in workplaces won’t be possible until next spring.

Public health advice for people to work from home where possible will remain in place beyond Friday, and government is to meet with trade unions and employers today to update the back-to-work guidance contained in the Work Safely Protocol.

“Essentially, what we’re saying is that a staggered return to workplaces and the office is possible. So people can go back to the office for a specific business purpose — a meeting or training, for example,” said Varadkar during this afternoon’s press conference.

Antigen testing

Antigen tests are set to have an “enhanced role” as part of a series of new Covid-19 measures announced today. Tests will be sent to symptomless fully vaccinated close contacts of confirmed cases.

This is a departure from testing policy thus far, where vaccinated people who were deemed a close contact, but had no Covid-19 symptoms, were not required to get a PCR test or to restrict their movements.

Currently, antigen testing is being piloted in seven college campuses this autumn: students test themselves twice a week at home, and can upload their results online using the HSE Report Antigen Result website. Antigen testing has also been used at high-risk sites, such as meat processing plants.

- With reporting from Aoife Barry, Céimin Burke, Ian Curran, and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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