Varadkar expects Covid restrictions to be eased in phases but relatively rapidly

‘Ireland is probably the only country where it hasn’t been possible to go to a pub or your office’

Tánaiste Leo Mr Varadkar said he will be  be pushing for ‘a more ambitious and quicker reopening over the next couple of months’. Photograph: Collins

Tánaiste Leo Mr Varadkar said he will be be pushing for ‘a more ambitious and quicker reopening over the next couple of months’. Photograph: Collins

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he expects a relatively swift easing of the current public health measures amid increasing evidence that the Omicron surge may have peaked.

Mr Varadkar also said he does not expect Ireland to have to reimpose severe restrictions, similar to those in place over the last two years, in 2022.

The Tánaiste said a decision on easing restrictions in February will be taken after the Government receives advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), after the expert group meets on January 20th.

“I do think we’re coming to the point where we need to move on, we’ve had very strict restrictions in Ireland for two years now.

“If you take last summer, the summer before that, we had the strictest rules in Europe. I don’t think that should be the case this summer.

Mr Varadkar said as Minister for Enterprise he wanted to see businesses reopen. “I’ll be pushing for a more ambitious and quicker reopening over the next couple of months. Nothing risky, nothing reckless, but certainly something that’s in line with our European peers,” he told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

Asked if the 8pm curfew for hospitality would be lifted from next month Mr Varadkar replied he did not anticipate it happening immediately.

“I think it will be phased. I don’t anticipate that we will just remove all restrictions at the end of January or at the start of February. I think it will be a phased process over the next couple of months.

I don’t want to speculate about any particular restrictions being eased. That’s not fair on people. These are people’s lives, people’s jobs, people’s businesses, when they get information from the Government.

“They want to know that that’s what’s going to happen. They don’t want to hear the Minister speculating about it,” he said.

However, Mr Varadkar did say the severity and duration of public health restrictions over the last two years in Ireland was striking when compared with other countries.

“Over the course of the last two years Ireland is probably the only country in the world where it hasn’t been possible to stand at a pub or go to your office if you wanted to.”

“That’s been very hard on people. Very hard on young adults in particular, who’ve lost two years of their youth, very hard on single people. It’s very hard on people who work in those sectors and people for whom culture and sports isn’t just a job or a business, it’s also their passion.”

The Tánaiste said on many occasions the State had acted out of an abundance of caution.

“Sometimes an abundance of caution can be excessive caution. And we need to avoid that. And I’m very keen to see the reopening happening at an ambitious pace over the next few weeks, the next few months.

“…Even though I’m very much in favour of easing restrictions as rapidly as we possibly can, we need to make sure that we are able to respond rapidly as well if there is a resurgence of the virus.”

Mr Varadkar also said the Government would give consideration to providing medical grade masks to State employees for free.

“The Government is an employer. And it makes sense to me that we should want to protect our staff.

“And one of the ways that we can do that is providing medical grade masks at no cost and that’s something I think we need to give some thought to,” he said.