Plans to end all Covid rules this Friday, October 22, have been changed due to increasing case numbers of the virus and rising hospitalizations.

Normal trading hours in pubs and restaurants and other hospitality areas will be resumed but restrictions are expected to stay in place until at least February 2022. That means continued mask-wearing, social distancing, and use of Covid certificates. It will still be table service only with a maximum of ten adults at a table.

Nightclubs will be permitted to reopen using digital Covid certificates under the government’s new reopening plan.

Although Ireland is over 92 percent vaccinated, up to 370,000 people who have not yet been fully vaccinated will not be able to gain access to indoor hospitality.

As ministers were discussing the new reopening plan they were told the case figures for Tuesday would be over 2,000.

Government ministers have decided to ease many remaining restrictions while also using antigen tests and booster vaccines to play an enhanced role.     

Limits on the number of people who can attend weddings and other religious ceremonies will be lifted under the reopening plans.  The return to full capacity sports stadiums will be permitted from Friday under the plan on the basis it is an outdoor activity. 

Return to workplaces will continue on a phased but cautious basis.

The government at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday accepted advice from medical chiefs that it is too soon to declare the pandemic effectively over in Ireland.

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In advance of the Cabinet meeting, Taoiseach Micheál Martin denied Ireland is going through a “Groundhog Day” scenario. However, he acknowledged the rise in hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) is causing concern.

Speaking in Sligo on Monday at the opening of a 15-kilometer new dual carriageway to replace a road where 31 people died in accidents in recent years, Martin said, “We are in a much different space and situation to this time last year because of vaccination.

“So we would encourage people out there who have still not been vaccinated to get vaccinated and particularly those with first dose to get their second dose.”

Delighted to open the new N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin road project today after a €140m upgrade.

This project is abut quality of life - the road will have a significant impact on road safety, jobs, tourism and investment in Sligo and the North-West.

— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) October 18, 2021

Meanwhile, over-60s will soon be able to avail of Covid-19 booster vaccine shots following advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. The extension of boosters will be an essential element of the government’s plan to tackle the resurgent virus.

After Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Martin said the key point the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is making is that the protective measures include masks, hygiene, and social distancing where appropriate.

He said the overall point is “collective behavior,” and NPHET's view is that the reopening of society can go ahead with protective measures and guidance will be given in the coming days.

*This column first appeared in the October 20 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.