What’s changed? Many of Ireland’s COVID restrictions removed south and north

Businesses and services across Donegal and the wider Republic affected by the most recent restrictions have reopened this weekend after An Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced an unprecedented number of restrictions were to be scrapped, while further easements are to take effect in the north.

By Brendan McDaid
Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 2:31 pm

People across Ireland, north and south, have experienced some of the most restrictive measures in Europe at various periods over the past 22 months to try to limit the spread of COVID and Mr Martin paid tribute to the way in which citizens across the Republic have adhered to the changes and the vaccine uptake.

In a statement that took many by surprise, the Taoiseach announced on Friday evening that COVID certs would not longer be required for visiting premises, all outdoor and indoor events can return as normal while the 8pm closure of the hospitality sector would be scrapped.

He said: “On this day in 1919, a short distance from here, the representatives of the First Dáil of the Irish Republic met and formally declared our country’s independence. The journey to that point was not easy, and our journey as a nation after it was often very difficult.

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NI Joint First Ministers Paul Givan (left) and Michelle O'Neill and An Taiseach Micheál Martin.

“In the intervening century we have made the progress we have made as a country because our citizens have entrusted successive Governments to work for them and the common interest, and to keep them safe. That relationship and that trust is a very precious and powerful thing. It meant that when our country was hit with this unprecedented health emergency, when your Government asked extraordinary things of you, introduced previously unimagined restrictions on your lives, you responded. You did what you were asked to do.

“At every stage of this crisis, I have been straight with you and made clear that your Government will be guided by the science; that our decisions will be guided first and foremost by the need to protect lives and public health. But today is a good day... Based on this evidence, we’ve concluded that the rationale and justification for continuing most of our public health restrictions are no longer in place.”

As of Saturday last, across the south household visiting restrictions have been removed, restrictions on capacity for all indoor and outdoor events no longer apply, closing time for hospitality and events will return to normal, the COVID pass requirement for access to activities and requirements around managing people’s movements at indoor hospitality and entertainment venues will no longer be required.

Furthermore a phased return to the physical workplace for all staff can now commence.

However there are no changes to the current measures in place in relation to international travel and the wearing of masks, and protective measures will remain in place in schools as will the advice for those with symptoms, positive cases and close contacts.

These last remaining measures will be reviewed before the end of February.

Adding a note of cation, Mr Martin said: “I want to be clear that the pandemic isn’t over – it will still require all of us to be vigilant. It is important also to say that I can’t promise you there won’t be further twists in this pandemic requiring different decisions in the future. But I do know this: solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today, and will get us through whatever else this virus may throw at us.”

He added: “We should all take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come; to appreciate the effort and sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe; to remember and appreciate the lives and contribution of those we lost.

“We think of all those who died with Covid, and indeed all those who passed away over the course of the last two years, who we were not able to mourn as we would have liked or as they deserved.

“Today’s news will be warmly welcomed by many, but I’m conscious that some among us, including our more vulnerable, will be feeling some anxiety about re-engaging with others.

“Is dea-scéal atá agam daoibh anocht. Tá an Rialtas sásta glacadh go hiomlán le treoracha sláinte poiblí nach bhfuil gá leis an gcuid is mó de na srianta sláinte anois agus mar sin is féidir linn leanúint orainn láithreach le próiseas athoscailte na tíre.

“Braithim gur féidir linn a bheith dóchasach le breacadh gach lae as seo amach. Ar scáth a chéile mar phobal, éireoidh linn agus beidh laethanta geala amach romhainn.

“Tá ré dóchasach nua ag déileáil leis an víreas romhainn. Bímis cúramach. Glacaimis misneach agus tá spiorad na saoirse le brath arís.

“Spring is coming. And I don’t know if I have ever looked forward to one as much as I am looking forward to this one.

“Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.

“As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again. For all our faults as a country, we have come a long way since this day in 1919. Ireland is now firmly established as an equal among all the nations, and we’ve been a positive force in the world through our arts, our culture, our peace keeping and our commerce.

We’ve done this by having the confidence to be ourselves. As we face into our second century as a free democracy, and as we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.

“Go raibh míle, míle maith agaibh go léír.”

Northern Ireland

Further relaxations of COVID restrictions are due to be introduced from noon on Wednesday, January 26 in the north.

Nightclubs will be permitted to open and dancing and indoor standing at events can resume.

In relation to COVID-status certification, the legal requirement will continue to apply in relation to indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 people or more.

For other settings where COVID status certificates are currently required, guidance would strongly encourage their continued use but they will no longer be mandatory.

In workplaces the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for 2m social distancing will be removed.

All remaining COVID measures including the legal requirement to wear face coverings will be reviewed by the Executive on February 10.

The NI Executive announced it was relaxing the measures put in place to manage the COVID-19 Omicron variant on Thursday last.

As of Friday past the requirement to be seated in cafes, pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues that serve alcohol and for table service was removed, as was the rule of six.

In domestic settings the cap on the number of households meeting indoors was lifted, while proof of exemption for face coverings was also removed and the reasonable excuse of ‘severe distress’ reintroduced. The guidance on working from home has also now reverted to ‘working from home where you can’. The minimum self-isolation period for people testing positive for COVID-19 was reduced to five full days, subject to negative lateral flow tests on days five and six of isolation.

The Executive praised the ongoing efforts of the public to limit the spread of the virus.

A spokesperson said: “The measures put in place in response to Omicron were a balanced and proportionate intervention based on the best available evidence. However, the improved outlook on hospital pressures allows us to relax some restrictions within the next week.”