Q&A: What pandemic restrictions will be lifted, and what will change?

The 8pm curfew for pubs and restaurants almost certain to go

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will likely address the nation after 6pm with the most significant lifting of pandemic restrictions yet. Photograph: iStock

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will likely address the nation after 6pm with the most significant lifting of pandemic restrictions yet. Photograph: iStock

 

Shortly after 6pm Taoiseach Micheál Martin is likely to address the nation on what is expected to be the most significant lifting of pandemic restrictions yet.

Almost two years after the Covid-19 emergency began all most all curbs on society are on the way out after the Government got the go ahead from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

So what is expected to change, what measures will remain in place, and what questions remain about how all of this will happen?

Is the pandemic over?

No. People are still falling ill with Covid-19 and there is still the possibility that a dangerous variant could arise that would once again threaten lives and the health service. However, at present Ireland’s high level of vaccinations, the dominance of the milder Omicron strain of Covid-19, and falling number of cases mean that the public health case for the continued restrictions on society and businesses appear to no longer be there. Nphet has give the green light to removing restrictions and left it in the Government’s hands to decide on how to do so. People will still be asked to take precautions like self-isolating if they have Covid-19 symptoms or test positive, but the restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sector will go.

So what’s going to change?

The 8pm curfew for pubs and restaurants which was introduced before Christmas is almost certain to be the first restriction to go – the only question is when. There has been a push from the industry to have the rule relaxed from tonight but that remains to be seen. Other rules like a maximum of six people at a table and no bar service are also on the chopping board. The use of Covid-19 vaccine passes for indoor hospitality will be removed but when this will happen is as yet unclear. And nightclubs – which were briefly allowed to reopen last autumn before closing again amid the Delta wave – should be allowed to open their doors. Timing is the outstanding question there too.

What about entertainment, sport and events like weddings?

At present indoor entertainment like cinemas, theatres and concert venues are limited to 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 attendees – whichever is lower. This restriction is set to be scrapped, again the only question is when. Sports stadiums will return to full attendance, in all likelihood in time for major GAA and rugby fixtures - like the Six Nations – in the coming weeks. Wedding receptions are currently limited to 100 guests and can continue to midnight. These restrictions are in line to be lifted.

Is my time working from home at an end?

Perhaps not quite yet. The return to the office for many people after almost two years is on the cards. However, this is expected to be a phased return to the workplace to give employers time to organise their own individual safety measures.

Can I finally have that big dinner party at home?

In all likelihood yes. While there was a limit of three other households allowed to visit a person’s home over Christmas, this too looks set to go.

When will the timeline for reopening be decided?

There is an expectation that this will all be decided by Government today. The three Coalition leaders – Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will meet at noon and much of the strategy will be thrashed out by them. The full Cabinet meets at 3pm for the final sign off on the plan. Mr Martin has promised to give a “very clear” outline of the plan for reopening today so expect key details in his address and further information to emerge as the evening goes on.

What Covid-19 measures will stay?

The wearing of face masks will likely still be required on public transport and shops. Similarly it is expected that school children will continue to wear masks in classrooms. The EU Digital Covid Certificate will certainly still be required for foreign travel. People will Covid symptoms are highly unlikely to be given a free pass to go about their normal business. The stay at home instructions in those circumstances and advice to take a PCR or antigen test are pretty much certain to still apply.