Cabinet agrees to relax close contact rules, clearing the way for thousands of people to return to their workplaces

Taoiseach Michael Martin has defended the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic this winter as he confirmed that rules for close contacts will be eased from Friday.

Mr Martin said in a cabinet decision that close contacts of confirmed cases no longer needed to restrict their movements for five days – once they got a booster shot – in the fight against the Omicron version of the virus. Progress reflected.

He said this was made possible by a “very robust” vaccination programme, adding that more than 10 million doses have now been given.

He urged those who have not received jabs or boosters, as it will prevent serious illness.

“We have to be cautious. We have to avoid this virus. But the decision on close contacts represents a balance especially in terms of pressure on supply chains and healthcare and other essential services, but the progress we are making with regard to vaccination.” are.”

Mr Martin said closing times for pubs, restaurants and cinemas at 8 pm would be reviewed later this month.

Speaking during a post-cabinet press conference, Mr Martin dismissed suggestions that the high level of Covid-19 cases represented a failure of the government’s plan for the winter.

He said: “I don’t accept it at all. It’s just the opposite.”

Mr Martin said Omicron is a highly permeable version of what is affecting countries around the world and that people had reacted “instinctively” to the restrictions and measures and changed behaviour.

“The key metrics in terms of mortality in terms of hospitalization and ICU admission are such that we are managing this wave effectively.”

Mr Martin also said: “There is no comparison in terms of the level of activity going on in the economy and across society compared to 12 months ago, when you had a much less communicable version.

“We’re not on level five [restrictions] Despite the very high level of cases.”

He said 300,000 PCR tests are being conducted per week, compared to 100,000-weeks at the same time last year.

Mr Martin also indicated that there would be no change in policy regarding the provision of free antigen tests.

Currently they are available to people under 40 who have COVID-19 symptoms as well as close contacts of cases in schools.