“Hopes for end to restrictions as 11,683 cases logged”

The Department of Health has been notified of 5,767 additional PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19, as well as 5,916 positive antigen tests registered through the HSE portal.

The number of people in ICU is 93. There are now 979 people in hospital with the virus.

It comes as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party of his wish to set 31 March as a deadline to end almost all legal Covid restrictions.

The party leader told his TDs, Senators and MEPs that the Government cannot promise anything yet and there is still the option of extending for another three months until the end of June.

He also noted the Government may have to keep some measures another while longer – such as mask wearing in crowded places, staying at home when symptomatic and Covid passes for international travel.

He said the coalition must continue to be prepared for a new severe variant of concern later in the year and that means being prepared for another round of vaccination if that’s necessary, being able to switch back on test/trace/isolate programmes, investing in improved air quality in our buildings and continued increases in hospital bed capacity and ICUs.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that public health restrictions are set to be wound down “very soon”.

The Minister said it’s likely some restrictions will be lifted before the end of the month.

However, he would not say if restrictions on 8pm closing time for the hospitality industry could be lifted by this weekend.

The current restrictions were set to run until Sunday, 30 January.

But the Health Minister has now all but confirmed that many of them will end before that date.

The letter NPHET will send to Government on Thursday evening will ultimately influence the exact timing but it’s very possible restrictions could be eased from early next week.