Ireland logged 9,441 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, as Minister Eamon Ryan said he would like to see the end of mandatory mask wearing in schools, public transport and in retail settings.
5,035 cases were confirmed by PCR test, while 4,406 positive antigen test results were uploaded to the HSE portal. Health officials have warned that self-registered test results are not directly comparable with laboratory PCR-confirmed cases.
There were 639 patients hospitalised with the virus as of this morning, with 58 people in intensive care.
It comes as the Minister for Transport said he wants the country to move towards a guidance system on mask wearing “straight away,” ahead of a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Thursday.
Mr Ryan said he is “looking forward” to hearing advice from the group.
“My view is that we should start immediately by removing the requirement for our school children to have to wear masks in school,” Mr Ryan said.
I hope that can be done straight away
“It was put in for good public health reasons, but I think they’re also good reasons for the health of our children in a wider context of them not having to wear masks.
“I hope that can be done straight away. I have the same view with regards to retail and public transport.
“I believe that we should go from a mandatory system towards a guidance system and public health guidance to continue to wear masks.
“It does make real sense, it makes good public health sense.”
Minister Ryan said he would advise anyone to continue to wear masks.
“But I think the time for that mandatory conditions, it’s part of the unwinding,” he told the Dáil.
“I will listen and heed and we will take Nphet’s views and position, obviously. But my own view is we should further the loosening of restrictions that have been placed.
“I listened to the teachers’ unions and the public transport bus workers’ unions. I don’t believe we should continue with a mandatory system.”
Labour leader Alan Kelly said that for many people the review of mandatory mask wearing is a “welcome sign” that the pandemic is ending.
“But many unions, Mandate and others that represent transport and retail (workers) in particular, have had concerns,” Mr Kelly added.
“Patricia King (of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) has called for the rules to be kept for a short period.
“There will be a lot of anxiety for staff and people who are vulnerable and this will impact especially on those considering using trains, buses and other forms of public transport.”
Mr Ryan said he hopes measures to cut the cost of public transport will be brought in throughout April, after the Government announced plans to cut fares by 20 per cent last week as part of its measures to tackle the cost of living.
People aged between 19-23 will also receive a 50 per cent discount on public transport.
Mr Kelly said encouraging people back on to public transport is “essential” to meet climate change targets.
“Emissions were up 11 per cent at the end of September versus 2020,” he said.
Mr Ryan said the number of people using public transport is about 60 per cent of pre-Covid levels.
“It varies across the country. The long-distance commuting numbers are not back,” Mr Ryan added.
“The cost-of-living measures that we introduced last week, it wasn’t just for cost-of-living reasons, as urgent as they were, it was also trying to get public transport a boost to this time, so we don’t see just the road space all taken up by people going back to cars.
“We want to encourage people back on public transport, it is safe and we want the numbers back up.”