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Irish PM Micheál Martin announcing the new measures, Source: merrionstreet.ie

Ireland updates reopening plan amid frustration

Ireland updates reopening plan amid frustration

Nightclubs reopening, removal of wedding guest caps, antigen testing, Covid-19 pass requirement indoors, and continued mask-wearing are among the changes

The highly transmissible Delta variant has forced the Irish government to make last-minute changes to its COVID-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing Our Recovery & Reconnecting plan. Under the plan to gradually reopen the economy and society, most of the pandemic restrictions were due to be lifted from Friday, 22 October, including attendance caps, mask wearing, physical distancing and self-isolation.

Cautious easing of restrictions

However, increasing infection rates in recent weeks along with hospitalisations and ICU admissions have prompted the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to suggest fully retaining the protective measures and wide implementation of the EU Digital COVID Certificate (Covid-19 pass).

Announcing the changes yesterday, the government assured that it is not going back on its plans to reopen the country, crediting the “hard work and exceptional support of the Irish people for the Vaccination Programme”. As of 18 October, 7 285 321 people or 88.21 percent of the eligible population have been fully vaccinated.

Enhanced role for antigen testing, end to mandatory hotel quarantine

Protective measures coming in force on 22 October:

  • People presenting with Covid-19 symptoms will still have to self-isolate and take a Covid test. The mandatory hotel quarantine system is no longer deemed necessary. Close contacts of people who have tested positive will no longer have to isolate until they are tested. If they are fully vaccinated, they will receive a rapid antigen test by mail, and if it comes back positive, a follow up PCR test will be required to confirm the result.
  • EU Digital COVID Certificate (Covid-19 pass), proving vaccination or recovery, is required for indoor hospitality and events.
  • People are obliged to wear face masks in indoor settings and on public transport. Face coverings can be removed for consumption of food or drinks.
  • Nightclubs reopen in a fully-seated capacity and under a specific sectoral guidance regarding protective measures. This will involve COVID-19 passes, contact tracing data collection and wearing of face masks except when eating, drinking and dancing.
  • Bars and restaurants resume normal operating hours. Table service is only allowed with a maximum of 10 adults sitting per table (max 15 if there are children in the group).
  • For indoor live music, drama, live entertainment and sporting events audience/spectators should be fully seated (standing permitted at your seat).
  • Outdoor events, including sporting events, proceed at full capacity with no caps and COVID-19 passes requirement.  However, sectors should take care of appropriate protective measures.
  • No capacity caps on indoor and outdoor group activities, but organizers should put appropriate protective measures in place. Where vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix indoors, pods of 6 should apply.
  • Religious services and weddings can proceed without capacity limits but with all other protective measures intact.
  • Return to workplaces will continue on a “phased and cautious basis”.
  • Physical distancing will continue to be required.
  • Vaccine booster doses will be offered to people aged 60 and over. 

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin said the measures will stay in place until February 2022.

Confusion with the new measures

The opposition has described the new government measures as rather chaotic, pointing to the lack of ventilation guidelines (and special air-conditioning filters) for schools, among others.  

Later today, officials are expected to resume deliberations on the new enforcement measures and guidelines for nightclubs and live venues. The government has made it clear that current compliance with the Covid pass requirement in hospitality is insufficient. One in three clients says they have not been checked for possession of a Covid pass upon entry.

There is a lot of frustration in the live music sector with the partial reopening plan. Angela Dorgan, the Chief Executive of First Music Contact, told RTÉ's Prime Time that members cannot make "head nor tail" as to why nightclubs will be allowed to operate with fewer constraints than live venues.

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