Covid-19 restrictions lifted: ‘There is a relief but I hope lessons have been learned’

Shoppers and business owners keen to embrace new normal but fear a false dawn

“I was jubilant last night when I heard about it,” said Mary Liddy of the Taoiseach’s announcement that the Covid-19 emergency is over.

With the vast majority of pandemic restrictions lifted from 6am on Saturday, 12 hours after Micheál Martin’s latest address to the nation, Ms Liddy said she felt “relieved” as she stepped out into the new normal in Galway city.

“I live a fairly, I suppose, unadventurous life, but I do like to go to the cinema. I do like to go to church. I do like to go to theatre,” she said.

Ms Liddy said the latest pandemic developments, 22 months on from Covid-19 first reaching Ireland, were “great” on a practical level. But, as Mr Martin noted on Friday night, she believes the country is not fully out of the woods yet.

“We still need to be very careful about masks where they’re required, particularly sanitising hands,” she said.

“Let’s not forget about all of those things if we want this kind of trend to continue. I have measured confidence shall we say, but I welcome the move.”

Danny Winters, a 23-year-old barman and student, said he was “very excited, but apprehensive” about the removal of most of the curbs that have impacted social and economic life in Ireland for nearly two years.

“The idea of lifting the restrictions was one we were all waiting for but giving people a day’s notice seems counterproductive,” he said.

“Hospitality is still a dying sector, it’s very difficult to have enough staff, stock and room ready in a day’s notice, especially after two years of uncertainty.”

He urged customers to be understanding of bar staff, and to bear with them, “especially the nightclubs; don’t be surprised if it takes them an extra week or two to get their house in order”.

The general feeling among people who had gone out to experience life in the less restricted city was one of cautious relief.

Maggie Rowe, a 22-year-old American woman living in Ireland, said she is glad to be able to do more things, but expected that the changes would lead to “more cases” of Covid-19.

All over again

As much as she hoped this really was the end of the pandemic, she said: “Things are going to close again. I feel like it has to. What if Omicron isn’t the last variant? Then we’re going to have to do this all over again.”

Danny McBrearty, a Donegal native living in Galway, took a different view.

“Our cases in January were the highest of all time, but we still didn’t lock down. They might change a few things, the opening hours of places might change, but I think, by and large, we’re back to normal,” he said.

In Cork city, people working, shopping and socialising in the Victorian Quarter – home to an eclectic mix of pubs, restaurants, cafes and salons – were adapting to the over night changes.

At the Moody Café Vin Bar, co-owners Noreen Gallagher and Jadowslaw Paduch were elated at the prospect of running a business with normal opening hours.

They opened the business in December of 2020 and had to close after just eight days because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“We basically had to give away all of the food we purchased. Two and a half months later we opened just for takeaway coffees just to let people know we were still here,” Mr Paduch said. “Since then we have had to just to get through every month with different things happening [with restrictions]. I am just glad we are still here.

“We were trying to assure staff whilst not being sure ourselves that things would be fine. The people who loved the industry stayed. We have 12 staff and it was anxious for them. I understood their anxiety because I was the same.

“There is a relief today but I hope lessons have been learned and people realise how important hospitality is.”

‘Embarrassed’

Mr Paduch said he had felt “embarrassed” in recent weeks at having to ask people to leave by 8pm and that he believes there has been tremendous loneliness in society throughout the pandemic because of the restrictions.

Ms Gallagher, who also owns nearby Gallagher’s Gastropub, said there is a “massive buzz” in the locality ever since the Taoiseach’s address to the nation.

“The bookings went right up immediately. The biggest heartache I felt during the pandemic was closing the kitchen down a few times because of restrictions. There was no warning. You could be losing up to €5,000 worth of stock,” she said.

At Gallagher’s pub, Andrew Gannon, who works alongside his mother Noreen, said it was “a bit surreal” to finally see almost all the restrictions lifted.

“It has been a bit of a shock. It came out of nowhere,” he said.

“At least we won’t have to be rushing people out the door now. We don’t like doing that. People have done their best ... One customer was asking me when we were getting the bar stools back. It will be weird but great to have them back.”

Friends Judy Golden and Clare Kennedy, from Mallow, were having coffee whilst contemplating the prospect of going “out out” at night.

Ms Golden said she was looking forward to heading out with “an extended gang” of friends instead of keeping it to groups of six.

“We just got used to the new normal but its going to be great just to go out for dinner without having to make an appointment.”

‘Sheltered’

Ms Kennedy, who was with her baby son Oisín, said he has been a bit “sheltered” since his birth in September because of concerns around Covid-19.

“We have met very little of my friends and family. It will be nice for people to be able to hold him and enjoy him and to be able to relax a bit.”

Maria Djukic, owner of beauty salon I Lash You on MacCurtain Street, was expecting a surge in customers seeking eyelash extensions now that nightclubs and pubs are fully opening.

However, she was able to survive the pandemic as for many young women eyelash extensions are now an “essential” part of their general grooming.

“We are hoping for more business with more people going out. We are here three and a half years. Before the pandemic we were very busy. We kept going and are very happy today.”