Tony Holohan
© Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
NPHET has advised the Cabinet that it can remove almost every covid-19 restriction from social distancing to covid passes and hospitality curfews in the coming days can reveal.

As early as tomorrow the Government will be able to announce an end of grinding restrictions that have been imposed on the Irish population at various degrees of severity for almost two years.

NPHET advised the Government this evening that guidance on household visiting; early closing for hospitality and events; capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events and even social distancing can be ended as soon as the Government decides it is appropriate. In a major surprise, NPHET has advised that covid passes will not be required in venues and activities.

NPHET has also advised that the work from home advice can be eased on a phased basis.

Cabinet meets on Friday and is likely to consult with Dr Tony Holohan to decide the exact sequencing but pubs, restaurants and even nightclubs are likely to reopen fully as early as Monday. NPHET has set no timeline and has left that open to Government has learned.

The guidance from NPHET sent to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly by letter said the Government should remove the majority of current restrictions, to include: Guidance in relation to household visits; early closing for hospitality and events; capacity restrictions for outdoor events. In consultation with the HSE, the public health doctors have also said that the covid-19 capacity restrictions should end for all indoor events, including weddings.

The sweeping breath of the abolition of measures recommended by NPHET is breathtaking when compared to the draconian restrictions endured by the Irish population, in varying degrees for almost two years. Further advice to Government also recommends: the ending of formal requirements for physical distancing of 2m and 1m distancing requirements in hospitality. All hospitality measures, like table service, 1m between tables, six per table etc will be ended.

Nightclubs will be permitted to open again. And, crucially for the economic health of city centres, public health advice to work from home will be removed, allowing a return to physical attendance in workplaces on a phased basis. Public health doctors and the HSE have advised that the 'return to work' should be done on a phased basis.

The Government has also been advised, understands, that there should be an end to all curtailment of health services. NPHET has said it does not believe that there should be any further limiting of visiting in health care facilities, including nursing homes.

According to briefings to, from political and HSE sources, NPHET had not determined a timeline.

A senior Government source said: 'It is expected that Dr Holohan and perhaps HSE CEO Paul Reid will brief the three party leaders first. They will tell the Taoiseach that they believe that the lifting of restrictions can begin as soon as they believe is pragmatic.

'It may be necessary to delay the reopening of hospitality until Monday, say, to give restaurants and bars time to get their staff rosters ready.

However, another Government source pointed out difficulties with delaying the mass reopening: 'Well once people hear of the extent of the lifting of restrictions, well it will be very hard to hold everyone back. Social distancing for instance will just go out the window immediately.'

Comment: Perhaps. Although, people have been so thoroughly conditioned for the last two years that it might not be as drastic a return to 'normal' as one might think.

It is understood that there has been more extensive interaction between senior Government Ministers and NPHET in recent days. Government sources said the comparative weakness of the Omicron variant and the effectiveness of vaccines means that the pandemic is almost certainly in endemic stage.

However, NPHET has also recommended that some basic covid measures remain in place. For instance, if a person finds that they are symptomatic they should self-isolate, even if fully vaccinated.

Also wearing of masks and restrictions in schools should remain in place until 28 February. Also people will be reminded to continue to make individual risk assessment and if they believe they are at risk they should take appropriate action.