Donnelly expects remaining Covid restrictions to be lifted before Christmas

Requirement to wear masks in ‘higher risk environments’ may remain, Minister says

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: ‘it’s important we don’t let our guard down’. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: ‘it’s important we don’t let our guard down’. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said he expects the remaining Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted before Christmas.

Mr Donnelly said “what we’d like is a lifting of all restrictions as quickly as possible.”

However, he suggested some measures such as the wearing of face-coverings in “higher risk environments” will have to be kept for some time even as restrictions are lifted.

There are limits of up to 500 people attending live entertainment events outdoors and audiences in theatres and cinemas are limited to 50. Nightclubs and casinos remain closed.

The Government is to announce a plan for when remaining restrictions will be eased next week.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meets on Wednesday and the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee will convene on Friday.

Their deliberations will feed into the Government decisions on easing restrictions at Cabinet next Tuesday.

Mr Donnelly said he envisaged the remaining restrictions on society being lifted before the end of the year.

Referring to the meetings taking place this week the Minister said: “what we want to do is we want to provide real certainty.

“It’s been a brutal year and a half. Most of society and most of the economy is open, but we’re very aware there are still parts that aren’t, that have suffered hugely, and what we want to do is help them open as quickly as possible.”

Hospital Report

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Christmas

Pressed on whether he envisages the remaining restrictions to be lifted before Christmas, Mr Donnelly said: “Yes, I do.

“Obviously specific dates are something that we would be looking to Nphet for, and we’ll be discussing at Cabinet, but, yes, the view would be that we would be open this calendar year.”

However, Mr Donnelly said the prevalence of the disease remained very high and “it’s important we don’t let our guard down.”

Meanwhile, he said he was “concerned” at scenes of people not wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing on streets near Croke Park after the All-Ireland Hurling Final on Sunday.

Around 40,000 fans attended the clash between Limerick and Cork.

Mr Donnelly said he thought the event itself was “well run” but added: “I was concerned at some of the footage we saw after the event in terms of people being very closely together without masks.”

He said the concern was for the people themselves and those they would go on to meet.

Mr Donnelly said: “The Delta variant is highly contagious” and his message for people going to large event was “please don’t let your guard down” particularly if they’re not fully vaccinated.

He said anyone who feels they have been in an environment where they feel there might have been a risk - even if it’s outdoors - should get tested for Covid-19.

Anger

There has been anger in the live entertainment sector that a crowd of 40,000 was allowed at Croke Park while a limit of 500 remains on outdoor concerts.

Mr Donnelly said he understood the “frustration” from the entertainment industry.

He said: “They are looking at the capacity that was in Croke Park and they’re saying surely now there is room for live events. We need to do everything we can to make that happen.”

Mr Donnelly said Minister for Culture Catherine Martin is looking a more pilot events to increase capacity and that a “close eye” would be kept on the impact of those “in terms of do they have the capacity to be super spreader events.”

He said the information back from large sporting events has been “very good” and that’s “very encouraging.”

“We would like to see the same thing, begin to happen for the arts. I think their ask is very reasonable.”

The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that Ms Martin is seeking Cabinet backing for the full reopening of indoor events for vaccinated people.

Mr Donnelly would not be drawn on whether he supports the proposal saying he wants to hear the public health advice first.