Irish premier Micheal Martin has told the nation it is “time to be ourselves again” as he announced the lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions.
On Friday, the Irish Cabinet signed off plans to lift all regulations – except for mask-wearing, self-isolation and Covid passes for international travel – from 6am on Saturday morning.
Workers will return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday while normal hours will resume in the hospitality industry this weekend.
An report from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has advised Government that Ireland has “weathered the Omicron storm” and that all the key indicators have stabilised and are going in the right direction.
In an address to the Irish, Mr Martin said: “It confirmed that Ireland’s world-class vaccination programme and the rollout of the boosters has utterly transformed our situation.
“Based on this evidence, we’ve concluded that the rationale and justification for continuing most of our public health restrictions are no longer in place.
“Therefore from 6am tomorrow morning, the majority of public health measures that we have had to live with will be removed.”
Guidance on household visits and restrictions on gatherings at indoor and outdoor events will be lifted.
The Covid-19 pass for international travel will remain, due to the Covid-19 situation in other countries.
Masks will still be needed in all the locations where they are currently required.
Protective measures will also remain in place in primary and secondary schools.
This will be reviewed at the end of February, by which time all children aged five to 11 will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, he said.
He urged parents to vaccinate their children and speak to their GPs about any concerns they may have.
However, Mr Martin warned that the coronavirus pandemic is not over.
“It will still require all of us to be vigilant. The changes we’re making will likely lead to a temporary rise in infections in the short term but we are advised that the impact of this rise will be limited by the scale of vaccination in the population,” he said.
“It is important also to say that I can’t promise you there won’t be further twists in this pandemic requiring different decisions in the future but I do know this, solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today and will get us through whatever else this virus may throw at us.”
Mr Martin said there will be challenges ahead, including vaccinating the developing world.
He added: “There is much to do, but today is a good day.
“And we should all take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come, to appreciate the effort and sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, to remember and appreciate the lives and contribution of those we lost.
“We think of all those who died with Covid and indeed all those who passed away over the course of the last two years, who we were not able to mourn as we would have liked or as they deserved.
“Today’s news would be warmly welcomed by many, but I’m conscious that some among us including our more vulnerable will be feeling some anxiety about re-engaging with others.
“For those who do feel like that, I’d ask you to be open about it. Share it. We all need to be open with each other, be supportive of each other, mind each other.”
He added: “Spring is coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one.
“Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.
“As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again. We need to see each other smile. We need to sing again.
“As we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.”
The Taoiseach went on to say that the recovery of society is under way and government will “continue to do what is necessary to support it”.
“The government decided today to continue and extend the provision of a number of key supports particularly the employment wage subsidy scheme,” he said.
A further 6,597 cases of Covid-19 were notified in Ireland on Friday.
In addition, 4,564 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
As of 8am on Friday, there were 892 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 88 in intensive care.