The Minister for Health is hopeful of a “big reduction” in Covid-19 restrictions as expectations mount of a significant shift in how the pandemic is managed in Ireland.
Stephen Donnelly said on Tuesday he hoped a combination of built-up immunity and widespread boosters would make for a "big reduction in public health measures in place" and a situation where there was "as minimal an impact as possible on people's lives, whilst maintaining background surveillance on the disease".
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday night he expected a rapid de-escalation of restrictions, and hoped that March 31st would become a deadline for almost all measures to lapse.
Amid rapidly dwindling case numbers, the first of two Cabinet meetings expected this week will be held on Wednesday. Also, members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet Government officials.
The hope among Coalition sources is that a firm shape on reopening will begin to emerge and that it can be signed off by Nphet on Thursday, clearing the way for a meeting of the Cabinet Covid subcommittee and full Cabinet approval on Friday. Senior sources expect some restrictions to be relaxed as early as next week.
It is believed that Nphet will not substantially oppose a relaxation of measures currently in place. Expected on a phased basis, they will be focused on a return to normal hospitality trading hours, increased numbers at weddings and indoor and outdoor events. Nightclubs will open later, it is expected, and distancing requirements elsewhere may be relaxed – modelled on the gradual easing of restrictions last autumn.
The lifting of restrictions will be accompanied by a fresh push on booster vaccines, and encouragement for parents to get younger children vaccinated.
Health sources confirmed they would raise no objection to the easing of restrictions, as the danger of hospitals being overrun with cases of Omicron had passed. It is understood, however, that mask requirements in certain settings – including schools – and the requirement for Covid passes for international travel will remain.
There were 5,767 cases of Covid confirmed by PCR tests on Tuesday, and 5,916 positive antigen results logged.