Senior Government figures including Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan have signalled they may decide later this month to ease restrictions, despite continuing record numbers of Covid-19 infections.
A discussion among Ministers at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting was “cautiously optimistic”, according to sources present, with a view forming in Government that the worst of the pandemic has passed.
“The mood is becoming more optimistic,” said one Minister.
Later Dr Holohan said the possibility of lifting Covid-19 restrictions on hospitality and other sectors was “all in play” next week when the Government’s public-health advisers meet to consider the impact of the Omicron wave of infections in more detail.
At a media briefing, Dr Holohan said it was “fair” to question why hospitality settings would not be reopened fully when higher rates of infection among younger people from the surge in Omicron infections were likely to lead to a high level of population immunity.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) needed another week to ensure all that the things that it “might have feared” from Omicron had not played out, he said.
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Dr Holohan said the measures announced by the Government on Wednesday on relaxation of isolation and testing rules, replacing them with new directions that Covid-19 cases and close contacts wear higher-grade face masks and undergo regular antigen testing, was a “proportionate” response to a variant that was not leading to serious levels of illness.
But Dr Holohan also urged caution at a meeting of senior officials on Wednesday, according to people briefed on the exchange. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” said one source.
There is also some nervousness in Government and health circles about the return of most students to colleges in the next fortnight, as many have not yet received their booster vaccine doses.
However, several senior sources said if things go as expected in the coming weeks restrictions should be lifted in early February. Ministers will be keen to give notice to businesses and sporting organisations about the prospects for lifting restrictions.
An Nphet meeting is scheduled for next week at which Dr Holohan and other senior officials will review the latest data. Ministers hope they will then be in a position to give clear signals about the plans for the lifting of restrictions in February, including the prospects for forthcoming large sporting