Ireland has ended what has been one of the longest and strictest set of coronavirus restrictions in Europe, with the end of lockdown declared “a good day” by the country’s prime minister.
In a televised address to the nation the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, announced that the “the majority of public health measures” would be swept away from 6am on Saturday after the cabinet concluded they were no longer justifiable.
“Our journey through the pandemic has brought many twists and turns and I stood here and spoke to you on some very dark days. But today is a good day,” he said.
“Spring is coming, and I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking to this one,” he added. “Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.”
From Saturday the 8pm curfew on pubs and restaurants will no longer apply. Limits on the numbers of people who can gather together in households, at sporting events, weddings and funerals will also disappear, he confirmed.
Also going is the requirement for vaccine certificates although they will be maintained for international travel.
A return to workplaces will be phased in, to give employers time to prepare, and mask-wearing on public transport will continue to apply for the next month.
With Omicron infections declining and hospital numbers stabilising, there was a palpable sense of optimism across the airwaves on Friday that the pandemic was now in retreat.
But some expressed surprise about the pace of change after two years in which 6,000 Covid-related deaths were recorded.
Martin praised the public for their compliance over the last two years, adding: “I understand deeply the grief that is felt by so many who lost loved ones, but no one should be in any doubt that your collective efforts have saved many thousands of lives”.
The Taoiseach has said that the pandemic is not over and people will still need to be vigilant. Micheál Martin urged people who have not received a Covid-19 vaccine to get one | https://t.co/xwD3F6HSzE pic.twitter.com/c7GQPRfJiX
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 21, 2022
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.
Unlike other countries across Europe, Ireland kept many restrictions in place for 20 months, with physical distancing, mask-wearing and limits on the numbers of people allowed to gather indoors and outdoors not lifted until last October.
When Omicron hit in December those measures were reintroduced, along with an 8pm closing time for hospitality.