The Irish Government has been given the green light to lift the majority of the state’s Covid restrictions.
It is understood that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended restrictions around hospitality can be lifted, including the 8pm curfew.
The recommendations also say that live venues and sport venues can return to full capacity and that Covid passes only be required for international travel.
The wearing of face masks is recommended to continue on public transport and in retail settings.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland has urged the Government in light of the recommendations to allow all hospitality businesses to trade as normal from Friday.
Government ministers will meet on Friday to assess the advice before Taoiseach Micheal Martin will make an announcement.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe told RTE it is reasonable to expect that the state will be able to exit regulations at a faster pace than would have looked likely a number of weeks ago.
He said: “What we have done at all points in this pandemic is been guided by public health advice. We have looked to deploy timings that get the balance right between the needs to our economy and society and that of public health, and that is what we will continue to do.”
Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, said the recommendations have been “eagerly awaited by the entire hospitality and late-night sectors for a long, long time”.
“Hopefully the Government will now move swiftly and there will be no delays to the full reopening and the scrapping of hospitality restrictions,” he said.
“Hospitality is ready and waiting to open our doors this weekend. If the Government gives the green light then the recovery of the hospitality and night-time sectors could begin as early as Friday night.”
Earlier, Mr Martin said he will give a “clear and comprehensive statement” on Friday 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,” he told RTE’s 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.”
Mr Martin 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 on Wednesday 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 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 to look at certain categories, basically people who are in that front line, 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 front line and our health services we couldn’t have come through Covid, and that they have to be a priority.”
He also confirmed that an inquiry into how the 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 Fail 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.
A further 5,523 cases of Covid-19 were notified in Ireland.
In addition, 5,048 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
As of 8am on Thursday, there were 896 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 90 were in intensive care.