Q&A: What restrictions are due to lift and what is the Government thinking?

What is happening with the return to workplaces, masks and household visits?

Requirements for masks and social distancing are likely to remain in some settings. Photograph: Alan Betson

Requirements for masks and social distancing are likely to remain in some settings. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Will physical distancing stay?

Under the next phase of reopening, the country was due to replace the restrictions-based system, which has been a feature of life since the start of the pandemic in 2020, to one based on guidance, advice, and personal responsibility. A big part of this was the plan to remove the two-metre physical distancing requirement. Much will depend on the picture that unfolds this weekend but this is one restriction that Government figures don’t believe would cause too much angst if it were retained for another short while.

Will vaccine certificates still be needed for access to events, pubs and restaurants?

There are some 300,000 people who have yet to receive a vaccine and for them, this would have been one of the most important restrictions to be lifted. There are senior members of Cabinet who believe a pause in the lifting of restrictions is inevitable if the situation gets worse, but who also believe that it is not necessary to pause everything at the same time. For them an obvious choice would be to continue use of vaccination certificates in order to get into pubs and restaurants and other venues. If the Covid-19 figures continue to deteriorate, this will become a key part of the debate and retaining the cert is likely to be an option that gains traction.

What about masks?

The requirement to wear a mask will remain on public transport, in healthcare settings and in retail. Government is currently weighing up whether to relax the rules around outdoor and private, indoor settings.

The reality is that many people are not wearing masks in private, indoor settings. The question is whether it would be wise to remove the requirement for masks in busy, crowded outdoor spaces. One source said on Friday the data does appear to show a deteriorating trend and therefore the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) may not feel comfortable sending out a signal that its okay to ditch the masks just yet.

How about events and ceremonies?

Many in Government believe it should be possible to allow for increased attendances at weddings, civil ceremonies and religious events, particularly for the vaccinated. The question is whether to lift those limits entirely or keep a cap on them. Government sources are adamant they have not yet had this conversation, but if the vaccine certificate is retained this could be a route to safely increasing numbers.

And, household mixing in homes and gardens?

It’s a little under a year since the Government decided to ease restrictions just before the Christmas period, when three households were allowed to mix in late December. The picture is very different now because of Ireland’s very high vaccination uptake. At present, fully vaccinated people can visit together indoors with no limit on numbers. If you or any of the people you live with aren’t fully vaccinated, you can have visitors from one other unvaccinated household. While there is anxiety about changing rules for the unvaccinated, there is a feeling the Government would prefer to move away from rigid restrictions when it comes to private homes.

Are restrictions lifting on nightclubs?

This is a particularly fraught question. There are mounting concerns in Government that it could be a mistake to allow venues like nightclubs to reopen. On the other hand, there is a very real fear that if the reopening is put off, it may be hard to offer a definite date for a future reopening, particularly if the prevalence of the disease does not decrease and remains at the same level for weeks to come. This will be one to watch on Monday.

Is the return to the office off?

A phased return to workplaces began in September and while some in Government believe this should continue, a dampener was put on the situation by the deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn on Friday. He said people should work from home where possible throughout this autumn and winter. The Cabinet will not want to deviate too far from Nphet advice when it arrives on Monday but there was some surprise at his comments on Friday.

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