Politics

Pubs and restaurants to close at 8pm from Monday


New Covid restrictions will come into operation on Monday after an emergency Cabinet meeting assessed stark new advice from public health advisers about the threat from the new Omicron variant.

The Government decided to impose fresh restrictions on hospitality and on cultural and sporting events, but rejected advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which sought a 5pm closing time for pubs and restaurants.

Ministers instead decided to impose an 8pm closing time, but industry representatives said that the move would devastate pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar promised new supports for the hospitality industry in response to the move.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan told a press conference at Government Buildings that the new restrictions were “precautionary” as they did not yet know how rising cases of the new variant would threaten the country’s hospitals and ICU wards.

Mr Varadkar said that the fight against Covid would be a “long war” and that the Government should consider opening up quickly during periods when this was possible. The current restrictions will be reviewed on January 11th.

‘Pessimistic’ scenario

Modelling produced by Nphet and presented to the leaders of the Coalition suggested that there could be as many as 30,000 cases a day in a “pessimistic” scenario. The numbers spooked Ministers into ignoring protests from Government backbenchers and agreeing to most of the Nphet recommendations.

Dr Tony Holohan’s letter to the Minister for Health






Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU


420


105

In another televised address to the nation, Mr Martin said that if left unchecked, Omicron is a very significant threat to not only hospital and critical care, but also to all of society and the economy.

“It spreads so aggressively, throughout all age groups, that we are likely to see infections at a rate that is far in excess of anything we have seen to date. It is that serious.”

He said he spoke with European leaders on Thursday “and the level of concern about what is coming is the highest that I have seen”.

Governments all over Europe are moving to introduce restrictions, while concern is rising in the UK – which on Friday recorded 93,000 new Covid-19 cases – that it faces a nightmare scenario in the coming weeks.

The Taoiseach said there will be a “massive rise” in infections here as the new variant takes hold, and the new restrictions were an effort to slow the spread before it was out of control.

Social contacts

Dr Holohan said the recommendations were made to bring about a reduction in social contacts in “high-risk settings” but he acknowledged the move could bring about an increase in house parties. “But the majority of people won’t do that,” he said.

Both men played down the possibility of schools closing, though the Taoiseach said it was not possible to give any guarantees. There are widespread fears in Government of another lockdown in January, but Mr Martin said the measures were “designed to avoid” this happening.

The 8pm closing time will be effective from Monday evening. Hotels will be exempt for overnight residents while weddings are to be limited to 100 people.

Attendance at outdoor events is to be limited to 50 per cent of venue capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is lower, meaning some major sporting events over Christmas could be curtailed or cancelled.

People arriving into Ireland from overseas will be required to have an antigen or PCR test in line with their vaccination or recovery status. All passengers coming into Ireland are now advised to use antigen tests on a daily basis for a period of five consecutive days after their arrival.




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