Republic of Ireland news

‘Milestone' day in Republic of Ireland as rules on mask-wearing end

School pupils also noticed a difference this morning, with the requirement for pods, staggered breaks, masks and physical distancing coming to an end
Dominic McGrath, PA

Mask-wearing is no longer mandatory in the Republic of Ireland, and politicians hailed the day as a “milestone” moment after two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commuters using public transport this morning were not required to wear a face covering, after the legal requirement to wear a mask in all settings came to an end.

The Irish Government decided last week, following advice from health officials, that from February 28 there will be no legal requirement to wear a mask.

However, people are still being advised to wear face coverings on public transport and in healthcare settings.

School pupils also noticed a difference this morning, with the requirement for pods, staggered breaks, masks and physical distancing coming to an end.

Close contacts rules have also been changed for the general public, as the Republic looks towards a new stage in its handling of Covid-19.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar called today another “milestone” moment in the country’s journey out of the pandemic.

He wished businesses in particular the “best of luck” with the changes.

“It’s a big day for many businesses and workers as economic life begins to return to normal,” he said.

“Staff and customers who want to continue to wear a mask should of course continue to do so. We know that many people will be nervous about this latest step in our journey with Covid, especially the medically vulnerable.

“For those commuting today, you are not legally required to wear a mask on public transport anymore, however we are still recommending that you do.”

Health officials had recommended the major shift in Covid rules following a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), the body that guided the country’s policymakers during the pandemic.

However, politicians and health advisers have insisted these changes do not mean that the pandemic is officially over.

“The rules on close contacts are also changing today,” Mr Varadkar said.

“If you have no symptoms, you do not need to test or isolate and can continue on your business and go to work as normal. This is the case regardless of your vaccination status.

“The only exception is for healthcare workers who have a confirmed case in their home; they will need to take antigen tests and follow different guidance.”

On the streets of the Irish capital, businesses and shoppers were beginning to navigate the shift in public health rules.

Many people were still wearing masks today in shops and cafes, with little indication that face-coverings had been completely consigned to the past.

Carol Treacy, the owner of the Petit Cafe on Kildare Street, said: “The screens here, we’re not taking those down.

“I’m not wearing a mask. Some members of staff are continuing to wear masks. Some customers have decided not to wear masks and some are still wearing masks.”

“Believe it or not, the majority are women wearing masks – not men.”

She said it was a great day and that it signalled the end of Covid.

“The talk was last week when it was announced. Today, it’s just accepted.”

“It’a a milestone, a big milestone.”

Elsewhere, there was a more cautious attitude.

Esme Lewis, an 84-year-old grandmother, said she was still adjusting to the new way of life.

She said she would continue wearing a mask on Monday, at the very least.

“I think it is just me. I’m not overcautious.

“But at the same time, I don’t particularly want to get Covid. A lot of my family had it and I’ve been avoiding it so far.

“So particularly going into crowded places, I will continue to wear a mask.”

“I wouldn’t say nervous is the word. I’m not a nervous person. But it is safer perhaps.”

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