Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that the sectors still closed due to Covid-19 can "now begin to hope again" as he outlined the latest roadmap to reopen society.

He said that restrictions would be "gradually and carefully eased during September", before a "significant change of approach" in October.

Mr Martin praised the Irish people for getting this far, and said it was "clear and incontrovertible" that their efforts and sacrifice during the pandemic had saved lives. He said that the strategy of lifting restrictions gradually along with vaccination had "worked" and meant that more easing of measures can now take place.

"Today, we're taking an important and very welcome step forward," he said.

Earlier, Cabinet agreed to a plan that would effectively bring the curtain down on restrictions on 22 October.

This is contingent on Covid-19 cases remaining manageable and 90% of adults being fully vaccinated.

Masks are still going to be required in the health and retail sectors and on public transport.

From 6 September, larger crowds can gather for religious ceremonies with up to 50% capacity allowed in places of worship.

Outdoor sports events can have 50% capacity in stadiums.

Indoor venues can operate at 60% capacity for events for those who are vaccinated, while outdoor events can operate at 75% capacity for those who are vaccinated.

Live music indoors will return at weddings (as well as dancing), and live music will return in bars too.

There will also be changes in tourism, with coach tours allowed carry 50% of capacity from 6 September.

On 20 September, the phased return to the workplace can begin on a "phased and staggered" basis.

Indoor group and after-school activities can also resume, along with indoor sports on that date.

Mr Martin said it is hoped that most of the remaining restrictions can then be lifted on 22 October.

This includes the legal requirement to prove "immunity" in order to access indoor hospitality or other events, all remaining restrictions on indoor and outdoor events and activities, all remaining restrictions on religious or civil ceremonies and the legal requirements for mask-wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings.

Nightclubs will also be permitted to reopen, while requirements for physical distancing will be lifted. There will also be no limits on numbers that can meet in private homes/gardens.

Mr Martin said that despite frustrations and tensions over the measures in place due to Covid-19 and "despite genuine concern for the disproportionate burden borne by some sectors, we kept our head as a country".

"We stuck together, we followed the best advice, we did what we were asked and we looked out for each other," he said.

"As a result, we've managed to protect a greater proportion of our people than most other countries."

The Taoiseach said that Ireland's vaccination rollout is the envy of many nations, and praised the vaccination workforce around the country.

However, he did say it is unlikely that we will be "rid of this virus completely" and that people need to take precautions even after 22 October, such as staying at home if they have symptoms.

The Taoiseach said obviously people must remain vigilant and nimble and if a new variant emerges or our hospitals come under unsustainable pressure again, the Government will move quickly to respond to the situation. He also warned the health service may face pressure this winter.

Mr Martin said he knew the grief was "deep" from the events over the past 18 months and said as a country we will "find the right way to memorialise those we've lost" to Covid-19.

He said the country will be able to move forward with "personal freedoms restored" into the future.

Not a 'freedom day' but a 'new normal'

In a press conference following the Taoiseach's announcement, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said rather than looking at 22 October as a "freedom day" it should be looked at as the start of a "new normal".

He said that date was chosen because the Government is confident that 90% of over-16s will be fully vaccinated by then, and also that the country will have passed the peak of the Delta wave.

Mr Varadkar stressed that the pandemic was not over and that if the Government has to act to protect public health again, it will. He cited rising Delta infections in both Scotland and England.

Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) payments to businesses that are closed will continue until they are allowed to reopen. The wage subsidy scheme will remain in place until the end of the year. A decision on whether or not to extend it will be made in the upcoming Budget.

The Tánaiste also said that the requirement for 11.30pm closure for hospitality businesses would end on 22 October.

Minister Eamon Ryan also stressed that "this is not over", and urged people to continue to take precautions.

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He said that, referencing the return to offices, employers, employees and unions will have to work together to make the transition work. He said he believed there will be a lot of "hybrid" arrangements where people mix working from the office and from home.

Mr Ryan said every community centre will "start to see things coming back", but appropriate measures such as ventilation will have to be taken. He said community organisations will be vital in this regard.

He said that continuing to wear masks on public transport is both the respectful thing to do and is also "the law". He said it is an inconvenience most people don't mind continuing.

The Taoiseach said that the requirement for mask-wearing in education will "continue to be subject to review".

Mr Martin said the country is moving from a "regulatory phase" of the pandemic to one where personal responsibility takes precedence.

Asked about dancing at weddings, he said that the Government would be removing the "regulatory prohibition" on dancing at weddings from 6 September.

On the issue of ongoing restrictions regarding maternity hospitals, the Taoiseach said that new guidelines "will issue imminently" from the Department of Health. He said the Government wants to have "as open access as possible" in maternity settings.