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Taoiseach expects to give 'clear, comprehensive' statement on easing of restrictions tomorrow

NPHET is to meet this afternoon to discuss possible easing of Covid restrictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Image: Julien Behal

Updated Jan 20th 2022, 1:00 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said he expects to be in a position to give a “clear and comprehensive” statement on the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions tomorrow evening. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is set to meet this afternoon to discuss the possible easing of Covid-19 measures.

It’s believed that health officials could examine the end of the 8pm hospitality curfew and a partial return to the office. 

While it had been expected that Cabinet would not make a decision on easing restrictions until next week, government sources have said that a Friday Cabinet meeting is “not out of the question” in response to whatever recommendations NPHET issues.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, the Taoiseach said he intends to tomorrow evening give a “clear and comprehensive statement about what lies ahead both in the short term and in the medium term”. 

The Taoiseach said he wants to outline to people tomorrow “how we intend to now live with Covid over the next while, because Covid isn’t going away”. 

“But we are definitely into a newer phase of it,” he said. 

Martin said that “the situation is positive”, added that “we have come through Omicron better than we might have expected prior to Christmas”.

“The combination of the booster campaign and vaccination, allied with the fact that Omicron does not seem to be as virulent as Delta and previous waves, has meant that the impact on people in terms of severe illness and deaths and ICUs has been much less,” he said. 

“So therefore, I think people can be positive, we can be positive,” he added. 

The Taoiseach noted that the current restrictions were put in place until the end of this month. 

However, he said: “I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than we might have anticipated.” 

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar “we are now moving into a different phase, into a different chapter of managing this pandemic”. 

Due to the level of immunity in society now and because the Omicron variant is much less severe the Government is set to review its current guidelines around schools and workplaces.

‘It’s a reasonable view that we will have to look at all our guidelines again. So there will be an NPHET meeting today, there’ll be a Cabinet meeting on Friday and on foot of that we expect to be able to ease restrictions.

“And of course on foot of that, because of the change in the balance of risk that then allows us to update our guidelines not just in relation to schools, but also in relation to workplaces and we would intend to do that,” he said.

The potential lifting of restrictions follows a decline in the number of Covid cases being reported in the last week.

Last night, 12,138 new cases – including 6,843 cases confirmed by PCR test and 5,295 additional antigen test results – were announced by NPHET, down from 20,909 new cases reported on the same day a week previously.

An additional 910 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, down from 1,055 people a week previously.

Similar to the Taoiseach this morning, Government ministers have been optimistic in recent days about the possibility of easing restrictions as early as next week. 

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan yesterday said he is hoping for an end to the 8pm curfew on hospitality by next week, adding that the position the country is in now is “a lot better than it looked a number of weeks ago”. 

“The numbers in ICU have steadied,” Ryan said, adding that it “looks like it’s going to give us the chance to start lifting restrictions quickly, in my mind very widely”.

The Minister said he also wants to see the return to office work restored “very quickly”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party earlier this week that he hopes all restrictions, including the domestic use of Covid passes for pubs and restaurants, will be lifted by the end of March.

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He expressed his wish to set 31 March as a deadline to end almost all legal restrictions, but noted we may have to keep some measures another while longer such as mask wearing in crowded places, staying at home when symptomatic and Covid passes for international travel.

Hospitality ‘hopeful’

Yesterday, the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents pubs in Dublin, said that its members would “make every effort” to provide later trading this weekend if they are given the green light to do so by the government.

The group called for the extension of pub opening hours to midnight as soon as possible, as well as the removal of all hospitality restrictions shortly afterwards.

“Various public health experts and senior representatives of the Government are indicating that the country has entered a new stage of the pandemic, so we are hopeful there will be good news for the reopening of hospitality in the coming days,” said Donall O’Keeffe, LVA’s Chief Executive.

“We would like to see the Government moving swiftly and allowing for the recovery of hospitality to begin as soon as possible.”

Emergency Covid legislation which underpins the restrictions falls on 31 March.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that while there is a provision to extend the emergency powers by three months, there is a need to relinquish the emergency powers.

“I think it’s likely that that measures will come in before the end of the month,” Donnelly told RTÉ’s News at One.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin and Christina Finn

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