An Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the nation this evening
AN Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced plans which will effectively bring the curtain down on Covid-19 restrictions by October 22.
In an address to the nation, the Fianna Fail leader revealed the steps which will see Ireland return to a level of normality it has not seen since March 2020.
Due to the fact Irish people have "stepped up to the mark" and taken the Covid-19 vaccine, "we are now entering a whole new phase of the pandemic," the Taoiseach said.
He said restrictions will be "gradually and carefully eased during September with a view to achieving a significant change in approach towards the end of October."
"Sectors which remain closed or subject to massive restrictions can begin to hope again," Mr Martin said.
From next Monday, September 6, there will be an easing of restrictions for organised indoor and outdoor events and mass gatherings.
Theatre, music and live events can take place for vaccinated people at 60% capacity indoors, and 75% capacity outdoors. Religious ceremonies can proceed with up to 50% capacity.
Live music indoors will return at weddings, and in bars too, and the plan should pave the way for the full return of students to colleges.
There will also be changes in tourism with coaches being allowed to carry 75% of capacity from September 6.
On September 20, the phased return to the workplace will begin.
Indoor after-school activities could also resume along with sports indoors on that date.
Finally, on October 22, government hopes to be in a position to remove the legal requirement to prove immunity in order to access indoor hospitality, or other events.
It is hoped that restrictions on remaining indoor and outdoor events and activities, restrictions on religious or civil ceremonies will also removed from this date.
The legal need to wear a mask indoors and outdoors is expected to be removed on this date.
The moves are contingent on Covid-19 cases remaining manageable and 90% of adults being fully vaccinated.
Masks are still going to be required in the health and retail sectors and on public transport, Mr Martin said, and he urged each of us to continue to use our judgement to wear masks in other environments where we see a risk.
Mr Martin's address could represent the final time government speaks to the nation on the Covid-19 measures.
In particular, he praised those across Ireland who have been vaccinated against coronavirus.
"This vaccine rollout has been on a scale that has never been seen before. The entire vaccination team operating at every corner of our country deserves the nation's pride and thanks," he said.
But he warned: "We are very unlikely to ever be able to say to be rid of this virus completely. We expect to see an increase in case numbers over the coming weeks."
"Obviously, we must remain vigilant and nimble and if a new variant or concern emerges, or if our hospitals come under unsustainable pressure again, we will move quickly to respond to the situation," he added, "But what is clear is the efficacy of our vaccines in protecting against severe illness, ICU admissions and death."
In his speech, Mr Martin also acknowledged that the approaches of other countries to the easing of restrictions looked "more attractive" at times, and that this led to "tension".
"But I also know this: despite these frustrations and tensions and despite genuine concerns for the disproportionate burden on some sectors, we kept our heads as a country. We stuck together, we followed the best advice. We did what we were asked and looked out for each other. As a result, we have managed to protect a greater proportion of our people then most other countries. The evidence is clear and incontrovertible - your effort and your sacrifice has saved lives."
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