DUBLIN: Ireland looked set to rapidly unwind almost all COVID-19 restrictions with ministers due to meet on Friday (Jan 21) to agree on a timetable after being given the all-clear by public health officials.
Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent's highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.
An 8 pm curfew on the hospitality sector could be lifted as soon as this weekend, alongside the ditching of vaccine passes with capacity in indoor and outdoor venues also set to return to full capacity, including for next month's Six Nations rugby championship, local media reported.
Ministers have said previously said that some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport or in shops, are likely to remain in place beyond the ending of the restrictions put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck.
"I think it is reasonable to expect that we will be able to exit the regulations on a faster basis than would have looked likely a number of days ago," Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told national broadcaster RTE late on Thursday.
The changes would put Ireland back in line with British-run Northern Ireland, which had less severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.
Irish business groups urged the government to move swiftly. The Licensed Vintners Association said pubs and nightclubs were ready to open late as soon as Friday night.
Ireland's hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe's toughest lockdown regimes. Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.
While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around one-third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one-in-twelve workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.