Almost all Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted by October 22nd under Government plan

Return to office work scheduled for September 20th and role of Nphet is due to be scaled back

Bigger crowds at  concerts will be allowed from next Monday, September 6th, under Government plan. File photograph: Getty Images

Bigger crowds at concerts will be allowed from next Monday, September 6th, under Government plan. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Workers are expected to return to the office from September 20th under reopening plans to go before Cabinet for approval on Tuesday.

A two-step approach to lifting some of the restrictions during September is being considered, with bigger crowds at events such as concerts and outdoor sports matches from next Monday, September 6th.

Almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions are set to lifted by October 22nd, subject to 90 per cent of adults being fully vaccinated and the incidence of the virus stable or falling. People will still be required to wear masks in certain settings like public transport.

The role of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is also to be scaled back from October 22nd.

The plans were discussed on Monday evening by the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee before they go to Cabinet for approval on Tuesday.

From September 6th, live events will be allowed at 75 per cent of the outdoor capacity of a venue for people who are vaccinated.

Larger religious services such as First Communions and Confirmations are also set to get the green light from the same date.

Currently, an attendance limit of 50 people applies to religious services.

A pilot nightclub event could also take place place by the end of the month.

The key dates are as follows:

  • September 6th: Easing of restrictions on larger events, indoor seated events and outdoor events. Mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated to be allowed. Holy Communions and Confirmations to restart. Trade exhibitions to go ahead too. Live music at weddings can also recommence.
  • September 20th: Return to workplace on a phased basis and easing of restrictions on smaller scale activities such as bowling and indoor sports.
  • Mid to late October: Removal of most other restrictions, moving to model of personal responsibility, with October 22nd earmarked for lifting of remaining restrictions depending on infection rates. Nphet to be largely disbanded.

Under current restrictions, remote working is recommended where possible but this advice is set to be amended with a phased reopening of offices earmarked from September 20th. Guidelines are to be prepared and published on gov.ie and engagement with employers will intensify from this week.

The plans include increased capacity for outdoor sporting events from next Monday.

The policy change raises questions of whether more people will be permitted to attend the All-Ireland football final between Mayo and Tyrone on September 11th. The GAA said it would not comment on the matter until there is an official announcement from Government.

However, a source said it was unlikely the association will accept an arrangement where it has to confirm people are vaccinated before granting admission.

Under the Government plan, capacity of 75 per cent would be allowed only where people were vaccinated.

Until now Croke Park has been allowed 50 per cent capacity - or 40,000 spectators - for major All-Ireland fixtures under an allowance for test events.

On live music, Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said she was “optimistic” that the sector could begin a phased reopening from early September. Covid-19 certificates would likely be needed for indoor entertainment in the first phase of reopening, she said.

In addition, the Cabinet is expected to allow a return to full capacity on public transport from Wednesday.

‘Keep guard up’

Commenting on the latest infection figures, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the country had done well, building on the successes of the vaccine programme, but that there was still a need to be “vigilant” and to “keep the guard up”.

“I’m watching very carefully the situation in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and Wales for example, where we’re seeing very, very significant increases in cases.”

Mr Donnelly said the subcommittee would be looking at a “detailed” and “comprehensive plan” which would go to cabinet on Tuesday.

Speaking on his way into the subcommittee meeting on Monday, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said he would be confident that from next week “we can start making progress in practical terms in unwinding some of the restrictions that are there and that will be done over a number of weeks into October”.

Mr McGrath said the Government would signal a shift away from a regulations-based system to one based on personal responsibility.

“I think that we are likely to see an early return of Communions and Confirmations as well as other such events,” Mr McGrath said.

“We will also see what we can do in terms of certain indoor activities which have been shut down for so long now. A lot of children who don’t play field sports have missed out on dance classes, gymnastics and other activities indoor, we would like to see them get back as early as possible.”

Stakeholders meeting

Ms Martin held a meeting with stakeholders from the live entertainment industry on Monday morning which was also attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

It is understood Mr Martin told the meeting that he wanted the sector reopened as soon and as safely as possible.

Speaking after the meeting at Government Buildings, Ms Martin said “it was a very positive engagement with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, timely that it happened ahead of the [Cabinet] Covid committee this evening. What I was looking for was an early September phased return for live music and events and I remain optimistic about that.”

She said that the industry stakeholders have been clear that actual dates are needed and these will be agreed in a full Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“They need that clarity. Also in terms of indoor dance and drama and arts for children, it was emphasised that involves over 250,000 children and that is something I am seeking to recommence in September in a phased way as well.”

Asked whether proof of vaccination will be needed for the sector as part of the reopening plan, she said: “I believe so for that first phase to make sure that we can have them reopened and performing again. That would be required for the indoor entertainment in September.”

In relation to whether the Electric Picnic festival can go ahead this year, she said there has been ongoing engagement with organisers and other departments over the weekend.

The Event Industry Alliance (EIA) said after the meeting that they called for the full reopening of indoor and outdoor events for the fully vaccinated, along with industry supports. The group expressed frustration that a date for reopening still has not been revealed.

“Despite the EIA specifically writing to Government in advance of this meeting, highlighting our sectors’ expectations, and requesting a confirmed reopening date for full capacity events, and a strategy to achieve same – the Government failed to provide either.

“We continue to be disappointed and frustrated at the total lack of urgency on the part of Government for the reopening of the event industry, which represents 35,000 people and is worth €3.5 billion to the Irish economy. This is despite being the only sector mandated to remain closed for nearly 18 months, far beyond any other industry or sector within Ireland.”

The alliance repeated a call for the digital Covid cert to be used as a method of access to live events.

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government would give specific dates on Tuesday for the reopening of the entertainment sector.

“That’s what the industry is asking for,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The Government wants to “open up through September” as safely as possible, he said.