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Irish scrap pandemic restrictions ‘to be ourselves again’

by editor

DUBLIN — Ireland scrapped most of its pandemic restrictions Friday night after crediting the nation’s exceptionally high uptake of vaccinations for limiting COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Prime Minister Micheál Martin announced that public venues such as stadiums, cinemas and pubs can resume normal operations at full capacity Saturday for the first time since the pandemic reached Ireland 22 months ago. Vaccine certificates and social distancing will no longer be required.

“Our journey through the pandemic has brought many twists and turns, and some very dark days. But today is a good day,” Martin said in a TV address to the nation from the steps of his Government Buildings office. “We have weathered the Omicron storm.”

Friday’s decision reverses restrictions imposed last month closing nightclubs and requiring pubs to offer booked table service only and to shut by 8 p.m.

This means patrons of Ireland’s more than 7,000 pubs will be free to arrive without reservations and order drinks at the bar without social-distancing measures. The move sets the stage for Ireland’s first unrestricted St. Patrick’s Day celebrations since 2019.

Existing caps on attendance at weddings, funerals and all gatherings indoors also have been scrapped.

“Humans are social beings, and we Irish are more social than most,” Martin said.

“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,” he said. “As we navigate this new phase of COVID, it is time to be ourselves again.”

Office workers will be encouraged to return to their workplaces on a phased basis starting Monday. The government had asked workers to work remotely after Omicron reached Ireland in mid-November.

People will be asked to keep wearing masks where they are currently obligatory, including in supermarkets and schools. Martin cautioned that Ireland must be prepared in case the virus mutates and threatens to overwhelm Ireland’s hospitals again.

Nearly 6,100 people have died from COVID-19 in this nation of 5 million, including 52 people in the past week. But the rate of hospitalizations has steadily declined since early January even as several thousand new infections, mostly of the less severe Omicron variant, continue to be confirmed daily.

About 82 percent of the Irish population is fully vaccinated from the age of 5 upwards, among the highest rates in Europe. Martin appealed to the remaining holdouts, including just 6 percent of adults, to “trust in science” and get jabbed.

“Vaccination is key. The evidence is there to see. The unvaccinated and the unboosted suffer the most. If you haven’t already, get your vaccine. Get your booster,” he said.

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