'The situation is positive' - Taoiseach suggests earlier than planned lifting of Covid rules
People can look forward to an earlier than planned lifting of Covid restrictions, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheál Martin said that current restrictions were due to stay in place until the end of the month but they could be lifted next week.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is meeting today (January 20) to discuss the easing of restrictions.
It is expected that Nphet will approve the removal of the 8pm closing for the events and hospitality sector that has been in place since before Christmas.
Government ministers will meet tomorrow to assess the advice before the Taoiseach makes an announcement.
Mr Martin said he will give a “clear and comprehensive statement” tomorrow about the plans for the weeks and months ahead.
“The situation is positive. We have come through Omicron better than we might have expected prior to Christmas,” Mr Martin told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
“The combination of the booster campaign and vaccination and the fact that Omicron does not seem to be as virulent as Delta and previous waves, has meant that the impact on people, in terms of severe illness and death and ICUs, has been much less.
“So, therefore, I think people can be positive, we can be positive.”
He said that Ireland is entering a new phase and that changes are expected to happen next week.
“The original restrictions were there till the end of the month, we may now go before that,” he added.
“I do want to allow Nphet to meet today but yes, I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than we might have anticipated.”
He said measures including the wearing of masks will continue for some time.
The Government yesterday (January 19) announced a raft of measures designed to thank the public and frontline workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the measures announced is a one-off public holiday on March 18, as well as a payment of 1,000 euros (£832) tax-free to frontline healthcare workers.
Mr Martin said the details of the scheme are still being worked on and the date of the payment has yet to be confirmed.
He said those in line to receive the bonus have “more or less” been decided, but that a panel will be established to assess the plans.
“There is a panel to be established because it’s a complex enough area, in terms of categories of workers and so forth,” Mr Martin added.
“I think we’re going look at certain categories, basically people who are in that frontline, who were engaging with the public and patients and particularly people coming forward in the medical arena and in the health arena.
“There was clearly a higher risk within the healthcare arena. Without the people in the frontline and our health services we couldn’t have come through Covid and that there have to be a priority.”
He also confirmed an inquiry into how the Irish government handled the pandemic will be carried out.
“I would prefer to call it an evaluation of how the country managed Covid-19,” the Fianna Fáil leader added.
“I think we do have to learn lessons – principally learn lessons for the future that other pandemics could happen. This pandemic isn’t over by the way, I just have to stress that point.”
He confirmed the inquiry will be held in public.
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