Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that he hopes to be in a position tomorrow to give a “clear” message to the public about the easing of restrictions.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is meeting on Thursday and the Government will meet on Friday after which he would give a “clear and comprehensive” statement.
The situation was very positive, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“We have come a long way,” Mr Martin said.
He said that he felt it was possible that there could be an early lifting of restrictions.
“Covid is not going away, but we are entering a new phase.”
‘Another chapter in Covid’
The Taoiseach cautioned that there could be “another chapter in Covid” and that we have to be vigilant. Mask wearing would continue to be an important feature, he explained.
“The booster has been the best weapon we’ve had against Omicron, it is the unboosted and unvaccinated who are suffering the most,” he said.
Mr Martin added that the booster system will continue until April to account for people who have contracted Covid recently and are therefore unable to receive a booster at this stage.
One concern that he continued to have was the view by some that Omicron was less severe than expected, which could lead people to feel that they did not need the booster. He urged people to still receive the booster, as it is a necessary protection.
When asked about the pandemic bonus and who would receive it, Mr Martin said that a panel would be created to determine the categories who will receive the bonus.
“We’re going to look at certain categories – those who were on the frontline – engaging with patients, clearly there was a higher risk in the health arena, so they have to be a priority.”
The Taoiseach said there had to be “some demarcation lines to give true recognition to those on the front line”, those who had suffered trauma.
The public holiday on March 18 is in recognition of the Irish public and workers’ contribution in this pandemic.
We are particularly conscious of the contribution of our healthcare workers.
This €1000 tax free payment recognises their work in caring for our most vulnerable.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 19, 2022
Mr Martin added that there would have to be an evaluation of how the country managed during the pandemic. Lessons would have to be learned, particularly in terms of the health service – the necessity to increase capacity.
“This pandemic is not over. We want to be in a better, stronger position if another pandemic arises,” he said.
Mr Martin said he wanted to make sure that the spirit of any evaluation was open, he understood that decisions had to be made in the best public interests.
“Sometimes people can be looking over their shoulder too much in a time crisis”, they had to be prepared to take action.
“I’d like to think some of the reforms during the pandemic can be embedded into the health service.”
On the issue of this year’s Leaving Certificate, Mr Martin said there needed to be an open debate and transparency on the issues involved.
A decision would be made “within the next while”.
According to Mr Martin, a hybrid model presented challenges as one third of the students did not have Junior Cert results, which would be problematic.
Grade inflation could add severe stress on students, he added.