Taoiseach announces Ireland’s next steps in Covid pandemic

Taoiseach Michael Martin Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has laid out Ireland’s plans to lift Covid restrictions this week.

Mr Martin confirmed a series of restrictions will be lifted on Friday, but with current measures remaining in place.

Mr Martin said that a booster vaccine programme for people aged 60 and over would begin “immediately”, following a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

“Over the course of the last two weeks we have seen a worsening of the Covid situation,” Mr Martin added.

“These figures are a cause of concern and a timely reminder of how dangerous this virus is.”

The Irish Government had hoped to see the lifting of the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions from October 22.

Instead, many restrictions will remain in place as senior politicians warned that the country will need to live with the virus for another winter.

A Covid-19 vaccine certificate will still be required for indoor hospitality and events, while the use of face masks and social distancing will remain in placer until 2022.

The announcement means that while nightclubs will be allowed return in the coming days, various restrictions will remain in place when they re-open.

Religious services and weddings will now be allowed to proceed without any limits on capacity, while the return to workplaces will continue on a “phased and cautious” basis.

“Government has made its decision in relation to Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) advice,” Mr Martin said.

The Citywest Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in Dublin Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

“All of the progress made to date remains in place.

“In line with Nphet advice, those sectors due to open on Friday may only do so on the basis that all customers produce evidence of a Covid pass.

“To stay open we need everyone to enforce the rule.

“Table service only will remain in place with a maximum of ten adults.

“Fixed capacity will no longer apply to outdoor activities, though protective measures must remain in place.

“Religious services and weddings can proceed as planned without capacity limits.

“We have also agreed to an enhanced role for antigen testing.”

Mr Martin said that the Government’s rapid testing expert advisory group will provide a recommendation on the use of voluntary self-testing by asymptomatic individuals who plan to attend risky activities, such as nightclubs.

Antigen tests will also be used for fully vaccinated people who are close contacts and have no symptoms.

Micheal Martin added: “The progress we have made together is real and it has to be protected.

“The changes we have made gives us the space to make sure that the next steps we take is safe.

“If you are indoors with other people, wear a mask.

“If you are running a business that is bringing people indoors, check for vaccination certs.

“If you have not been vaccinated or had a second vaccination, please make arrangement to get fully vaccinated.

“It is safe and it is free.”

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has said that some of the details in Tuesday’s announcement would be a “disappointment” to certain people and industries.

Mr Varadkar said: “The pandemic isn’t over yet.

“We’re going to have get through at least another winter before we can say it’s behind us.”

He told reporters at the post-Cabinet briefing: “We’re not where we hoped to be or expected to be for October 22.”

Mr Varadkar said that Nphet expected Covid-19 cases to peak at the end of October, with ICU numbers peaking at around 150 by the end of November.

Mr Varadkar told reporters that Nphet had considered recommending a full pause of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

He said the medical advisory body had ultimately recommended against such a course of action because the Covid-19 situation would not change in the next number of weeks.

“We are going to have to live with Covid.

“It won’t be easy,” Mr Varadkar said.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that it was the right decision to proceed with caution in the coming weeks.

He said the Government had decided “not to pause, but proceed with caution”.

Mr Ryan said that “personal responsibility” would be important during the winter, but also said that “sectoral responsibility” would be a vital element of the country’s pandemic response.