Ireland set to announce plans to lift most Covid restrictions

Ireland is set to emerge from what has been one of the longest and strictest set of coronavirus restrictions in Europe, with virtually all to be lifted in the coming weeks.

The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, will set out the precise details in a national address on Friday evening and it is expected that an 8pm curfew on hospitality imposed in December to combat the spread of the Omicron variant will be lifted as early as next Wednesday.

Other restrictions on the number of households that can gather together, limits on the numbers that can attend sporting events or weddings are also expected to go next week.

A requirement for vaccine certificates at restaurants and bars is expected to be lifted, but the same will be maintained for international travel. Mask wearing is also expected to be maintained in shops and public transport, and the return to workplaces will be phased in to give employers time to prepare.

The cabinet will meet at 3pm on Friday to finalise the timetable for changes, and the way was cleared for freedoms to be restored after the National Public Health Emergency Team said it was supportive of the relaxations.

With Omicron infections declining and hospital numbers stabilising, there was a palpable sense of optimism across the airwaves on Friday. Some have expressed surprise about the pace of change after two years in which 6,000 Covid-related deaths were recorded, with tourism hammered and countless businesses closing.

The removal of restrictions will be a relief for many pubs and restaurants hit by the 8pm curfew imposed at Christmas, but too late for those that did not survive the earlier 20-month-long restrictions on hospitality that were lifted in October 2021.

Danny McCoy, the chief executive of Ibec, Ireland’s business representative group, welcomed the news as a “positive development”, while Ryanair has announced a record number of services from Ireland.

The airline’s chief executive, Eddie Wilson, said Ireland had “been the worst-affected country throughout Europe” in terms of travel, with a block on tourist travel in or out of the country only lifted last summer.

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