Following public health advice, the government today agreed that most of the public health measures currently in place can be removed.

The efforts of the Irish people over recent weeks to reduce social contacts, and take care when they did meet others, combined with the high uptake of the vaccination and booster programme, has made a considerable difference to the public health situation.

The Cabinet has agreed to end almost all remaining health restrictions from next Monday.

This means that mask wearing in schools, in retail settings and on public transport will be voluntary from 28 February, but they will still be required in health care.

There will be advice that people should continue to wear masks on public transport, but it will not be underpinned by law.

Physical distancing measures in schools, such as pods, will also end next week, while testing and tracing will be scaled back.

NPHET itself will be wound-up too, but the Office of the Chief Medical Officer will continue to monitor the “epidemiological profile of the disease”.

The leaders of all three government parties backed the recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team’s to end mandatory mask wearing.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said people still need to be careful when it comes to wearing masks.

Mr Ryan said: “But it’s not mandatory. I think it’s appropriate that … we step back from some of those sort of restrictions.

“It’s especially important in our schools … it’d be very welcome for your younger children, particularly, not to have to wear a mask. So I think it’s good news.”

On public transport, Mr Ryan said they were advising people to keep wearing masks because there is still “Covid out there”, but it will not be mandatory.