More than 10,000 positive tests for Covid-19 were reported in the State on Saturday as the majority of pandemic restrictions were lifted and the numbers being treated for the disease in hospitals and intensive care units fell.
The Department of Health said that 6,689 positive PCR tests had been reported and that 3,911 people had registered a positive antigen test result through the HSE’s online portal.
The number of people being treated in intensive care units for Covid-19 fell by 10 to 78 while the overall number in hospital with the disease has decreased from 892 to 836 since Friday.
Life in Ireland took a significant step back towards normality on Saturday as most pandemic-related restrictions on social and economic activity were lifted.
Following a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which said there was "clear evidence" nationally and internationally that the Omicron variant was not generally leading to severe illness, the Taoiseach said "the emergency is over" and announced an swift easing of curbs.
The move means that the 8pm closing time for the hospitality sector is gone and pubs and restaurants can trade largely free of restrictions. The digital Covid pass is no longer required for entry to hospitality, entertainment and leisure venues.
Live and sporting events can host full capacity crowds and guidance advising limits on household visits has been removed. Workers across Ireland can return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday.
Also on Saturday, Fórsa trade union said it was seeking a consultation on the phased return to workplaces, saying that the benefits of remote working must not be lost.
The union has advised its branches and officials to make contact with their employers about the return to work after the government lifted the majority of Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday morning.
The union said the phased return to workplaces and an end to social distancing and some mask wearing will impact on workers and workplace safety measures.
Only a small number of restrictions remain in place, including the continued requirement to wear masks in settings such as in shops, schools and on public transport; self-isolation rules; and the use of Covid passes for international travel.
In a televised address on Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “time to be ourselves again”.
The relaxations have come swifter than many expected with thousands of cases still being confirmed daily through the State’s testing system.
However, Nphet said the "overall epidemiological position is improving, and the most recent data indicates that we have now passed a peak in this wave of infection" and that Ireland had weathered the Omicron surge.
Protective measures will remain in place in primary and secondary schools until at least the end of February. They will be reviewed at that point, by which time all children aged five to 11 will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
However, Mr Martin, despite striking an optimistic tone, warned that the pandemic is not over.
“Spring is coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one.
“Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.
“As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again. We need to see each other smile. We need to sing again.
“As we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.”