Covid-19: Compulsory mask-wearing to end in almost all settings

Nphet advice is most visible sign that life is returning to normal after two years of pandemic

The Government is set to accept advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to end compulsory mask-wearing in almost all settings, in the most visible sign yet that life is returning to normal after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, Ministers are likely to stress that mask-wearing will be advisable for vulnerable people, while Taoiseach Micheál Martin has previously said he will continue to wear a face mask in shops and on public transport even if rules are eased.

If the proposals – in a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly – are accepted by the Government, the new rules will come into operation at the end of this month.

Under the new regime, masks will only be needed in healthcare settings, and the advice to wear masks on public transport, in retail settings and in schools will lapse.


The regulation-based approach to mask-wearing will no longer be in place, sources said. However, it will still be seen as important, and people will be encouraged to wear masks if they feel more comfortable in so doing – especially on public transport, which is a crowded setting that people cannot avoid.

New advice

The meeting of Nphet on Thursday also agreed to issue new advice to Government that would radically change the testing system for Covid-19.

It is understood testing will be focused on the over-55s, those who are are vulnerable and those who live with someone in those categories.

Otherwise, the advice will be for people to self-isolate if they are sick with Covid symptoms until the symptoms have abated. Close contacts will not need to seek a PCR test. It is thought that unvaccinated and unboosted people will still be advised to seek a test.

At Thursday’s Nphet meeting, it is understood that Dr Holohan said the meeting could be the last held by the body in its current form. He thanked members for their service, in case he did not get another chance to do so. No date has been set for another meeting.

One source at the meeting said the impression made was: “We’re done.”


A move to a more normalised approach, out of the emergency stance that gave rise to Nphet, is now seen as highly likely by multiple sources. This would entail the disease being managed without the input of a body comprised of outside experts such as Nphet, and instead being managed through existing structures.

Senior officials said the group would most likely be replaced by a smaller body, with outside experts offering advice. Dr Holohan is expected to make proposals to Mr Donnelly about a new structure in the near future, but the final decision rests with Mr Donnelly.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said another 5,035 positive cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed by PCR testing. In addition, a further 4,406 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal. As of 8am on Thursday, there were 639 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 58 of those in intensive care.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times