Mandatory mask-wearing requirements should end in most areas, health officials have advised the Government.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met earlier on Thursday and it is understood that chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has recommended that masks should become optional in education, public transport and schools settings.
Nphet is to advise the Government that the requirement to wear masks in most settings will become advisory.
It is expected that the Government will accept the advice, meaning that masks will no longer be mandatory in those areas.
However, mask wearing will still be required in healthcare settings, including hospitals.
The recommendations are contained in a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
A move to remove the rules on mask-wearing had received significant political backing earlier on Thursday.
Eamon Ryan had said that would like to see the end of mandatory mask wearing in schools, public transport and in retail settings.
The Minister for Transport told the Dail that he wants the country to move towards a guidance system “straight away”.
“My view is that we should start immediately by removing the requirement for our school children to have to wear masks in school,” Mr Ryan had said.
“It was put in for good public health reasons but I think they’re also good reasons for the health of our children in a wider context of them not having to wear masks.
“I hope that can be done straight away.
“I have the same view with regards to retail and public transport.
“I believe that we should go from a mandatory system towards a guidance system and public health guidance to continue to wear masks.
“It does make real sense, it makes good public health sense.”
He said he would advise anyone to continue to wearing masks.
“But I think the time for that mandatory conditions, it’s part of the unwinding,” he told the Dail.
Mr Ryan said that the Government would “listen and heed and we will take Nphet’s views and position”.
“I listened to the teachers’ unions and the public transport bus workers’ unions. I don’t believe we should continue with a mandatory system.”
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, speaking to media at the launch of the national rollout of the Innovation Exchange at the Guinness Enterprise Centre, predicted that the Government would act “swiftly” after receiving the advice.
Mr Harris said that the Nphet meeting came amid a “positive trajectory and backdrop”.
“I expect they will communicate their advice to Government later today and the Government will act swiftly in relation to that advice,” he told reporters.
“I think the justification for any regulation or restriction or public health measure always needs to be grounded in public health advice.
“And there is no justification for any regulation unless it correlates with public health advice, so I’ll put it like that.
“It is the clear intention of Government not to wish to extend regulations, unless there was a public health rationale for doing so.”
He said that it was not yet decided whether the Cabinet would meet on Friday, following receipt of the latest guidance from health officials.
He said that he did not believe it was a “particularly controversial” issue to consider.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said earlier that for many people the review of mandatory mask wearing is a “welcome sign” that the pandemic is ending.
“But many unions, Mandate and others that represent transport and retail (workers) in particular, have had concerns,” Mr Kelly added.
“Patricia King (of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) has called for the rules to be kept for a short period.
“There will be a lot of anxiety for staff and people who are vulnerable and this will impact especially on those considering using trains, buses and other forms of public transport.”
Mr Ryan also told the Dail that he hopes measures to cut the cost of public transport will be brought in throughout April.
The Government announced plans to cut fares by 20% last week as part of its measures to tackle the cost of living.
People aged between 19 and 23 will also receive a 50% discount on public transport.
Mr Kelly said encouraging people back on to public transport is “essential” to meet climate change targets.
“Emissions were up 11% at the end of September versus 2020,” he said.
Mr Ryan said the number of people using public transport is about 60% of pre-Covid levels.
“It varies across the country. The long-distance commuting numbers are not back,” Mr Ryan added.
“The cost-of-living measures that we introduced last week, it wasn’t just for cost-of-living reasons, as urgent as they were, it was also trying to get public transport a boost to this time, so we don’t see just the road space all taken up by people going back to cars.
“We want to encourage people back on public transport, it is safe and we want the numbers back up.”
He said he hopes to see both measures brought in by the end of April.
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