Republic of Ireland news

Irish Cabinet to consider September return to offices as part of reopening plans

Workers will be returning to offices from September 20, under plans set to be recommended by the Covid-19 Cabinet sub-committee in the Republic of Ireland.
James Ward and Dominic McGrath, PA

Workers will be returning to offices from September 20, under plans set to be recommended by the Covid-19 Cabinet sub-committee in the Republic of Ireland.

Irish government ministers on Monday indicated that the public could look forward to a significant easing of restrictions across September and October.

The PA news agency understands that the Cabinet sub-committee has agreed that there will be a phased return to the workplace from September 20.

It is also understood that the numbers permitted to attend outdoor sports events will increased from September 6.

A full meeting of the Cabinet will take place on Tuesday.

It is expected that also from September 6, restrictions on indoor venues will be eased – with larger crowds permitted.

Indoor venues will be able to use up to 60% of capacity when holding events for the fully vaccinated. For outdoor events, 75% of capacity will be available for vaccinated individuals.

Earlier on Monday, transport minister Eamon Ryan said that most restrictions will be eased in October, including those on the hospitality sector.

The Green Party leader said one of the key decisions will be around the entertainment industry, including clarity about when it will return.

He also said that a return to offices will require a lot of flexibility from organisations.

Asked whether the restrictions on hospitality, including the 11.30pm closing time, will be lifted, Mr Ryan said it still needed to be worked out.

“Everything won’t change, by the time we get into October most of the restrictions should start to ease,” he said.

“I know the hospitality sector made a point, we don’t want everyone out at the one time, so having staggered opening and closing times makes sense.”

Mr Ryan also suggested that there could be a staggered approach to going back to the office: “It’s lots of flexible approaches in September, with most restrictions being lifted in October.”

He said some changes will come into effect from September 13.

“We will start with getting people used to going back to work and training and team work. A lot of people will still be able to do remote working if they find that works better for them.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly sounded a note of caution, saying that while the country has “a lot to be optimistic about”, it will be important to remain vigilant.

He said: “I’m watching very carefully the situation in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and Wales, for example, where we’re seeing very, very significant increases in cases.

“Northern Ireland has a very significant increase in hospitalisations, it’s far higher than ours is.

“So we need to continue to follow the public health advice, we need to keep minding each other.”

He also urged anyone who is not yet vaccinated to do so.

“Not only will they be keeping themselves safe, they will be keeping their friends, their family, their community safe,” he said.

“The more people who get vaccinated, the more we’ll be able to push this virus back down again.”

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath warned people not to expect an announcement that the battle against Covid-19 is over.

He said: “I don’t believe you will see anything declaring that the battle with Covid is over, or anything of the sort, because it is not.

“We are going to have to continue to be cautious and vigilant in the fight against Covid-19.

“But I think what you will see is a move away, in a gradual sense, from a rules and regulations based system to one that does place an emphasis on personal responsibility, and on living alongside it, in a cautious way.”

Restrictions will begin to be lifted from next week, and continue into October, Mr McGrath said.

But he added that Government will move to reintroduce restrictions if necessary.

“I think we have to acknowledge that a level of uncertainty remains. Every time that we think we’re getting ahead of the virus, something happens and throws our plans, maybe off track” he said.

“We do have to retain that flexibility and we have to retain the right to change and to reflect the circumstances as we as we face them.

“If the circumstances change in a significant way then, of course, Government will have to respond to that.”

Earlier, Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney said that the Government will provide the live entertainment sector with “specific dates” for reopening on Tuesday.

The sector has been largely shut throughout the pandemic, with bosses calling on Government to allow it to return as soon as possible.

A meeting of the Covid Cabinet sub-committee resumed on Monday afternoon, having met for five and a half hours on Friday.

There will be an announcement on Tuesday of a road map for lifting restrictions.

Mr Ryan confirmed on Friday that communions and confirmations are also set to be given the go-ahead this month.

In a statement on Friday, the Government also said it would engage with the organisers of Electric Picnic over the weekend, with Culture Minister Catherine Martin saying she was exploring “all possible options” for the music festival to go ahead.

The chief medical officer has said he would not have concerns about the event going ahead from a public health perspective, if it is limited to only the fully vaccinated.

The latest figures show that 88.1% of Irish adults are now fully vaccinated, among the highest rates in Europe.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted on Monday: “88.1% of over-18s are now fully vaccinated in Ireland.

“Very strong performance by the Vaccine Task Force, HSE and all involved in our rollout.

“Vaccination is giving us the protection we need against severe illness – so please get one as soon as you are offered.”

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