Booster vaccines will underpin plan to ease restrictions over next two months

A booster vaccine programme will be a key factor in the easing of the remaining restrictions in time for the Government’s October 22 deadline.

aoiseach Micheál Martin said booster shots would be administered in the “coming weeks” as he unveiled a new roadmap for easing restrictions over the next two months.

In a live televised address, Mr Martin said Ireland had “one of the most determined and comprehensive vaccination programmes in the world” which he said, along with ­public sacrifice, meant more people were protected here than most other countries.

“We have weathered many storms, we’ve borne many ordeals, we’ve faced down many threats and we have seized many opportunities,” he said.

In eight weeks all restrictions will be lifted, apart from the requirement to wear a mask in healthcare settings, in retail outlets and on public transport.

Mr Martin suggested masks may even become part of “Irish winters of the future” on a voluntary basis. He also warned the health service was facing into a “very difficult winter” from the combined threat of Covid along with other respiratory viruses such as the cold and flu.

Speaking at a press conference after Mr Martin’s address, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said October 22 should not be viewed as “freedom day” but the first day of a “new normal”.

Mr Varadkar said “the pandemic is definitely not over” as many other countries are still heavily struggling with the virus, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, where vaccination rates are low.

The Government’s new strategy is called ‘Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting’ and will see a gradual easing of the remaining restrictions, beginning on Monday.

On September 6, restrictions on organised indoor and outdoor events and mass gatherings will be eased for people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past six months.

Indoor entertainment such as music or sporting events will be able to operate at 60pc of their capacity for vaccinated and recovered people while large outdoor events such as sports in stadiums and concerts will be permitted at 75pc.

Indoor venues will not be permitted to allow unvaccinated people attend events at this point. Cinemas will be permitted to fill 60pc of their seats with people who are immune from the virus. They will only be allowed 50 if they choose to allow unvaccinated people attend screenings.

Religious ceremonies will be able to proceed with 50pc of a venue’s capacity, regardless of immunity status of ­worshippers.

Music will be also be permitted inside at wedding functions.

There will be a further easing of restrictions on September 20, which will see the ban on indoor group activities removed.

This will mean indoor sports such as football, basketball and boxing can resume, as can exercise classes.

Dances classes, band practices, choirs and bridge clubs along with community activities can also return to holding meetings indoors.

Organised indoor events will have a maximum capacity of 100 for vaccinated and recovered people. In circumstances where there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, pods of six people will be permitted indoors.

The number of pods allowed will be based on the size of a venue and the ability of organisers to implement protective measures.

Restrictions on outdoor group activities such as sports training will also be lifted on this date.

A return to work on a staggered basis will begin on September 20 and the Government will urge employers to take a common sense approach to returning to offices.

The Government’s plan said employers should develop long-term blended working and return-to-work policies for their staff that are in line with public health advice.

The Government is continuing talks with employer groups and trade unions about developing a protocol to ensure staff can return to work safely.

All restrictions will then finally be lifted on October 22.

This will include regulated mandates for social distancing. Limits on outdoor and indoors events will be ditched as will restrictions on religious ceremonies.

Digital Covid Certificates will only be needed for international travel and they will not be needed to enter restaurants or bars. They will also not be necessary for live events.

Nightclubs will also reopen on this date and the requirement to work from home will also be lifted.

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