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Sam Boal
close contacts

No change to hospitality restrictions until February at the earliest, Taoiseach confirms

Micheál Martin said that Cabinet would discuss the restrictions on hospitality again at the end of January.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Jan 2022

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has confirmed that current restrictions on hospitality are to remain in place until the end of the month. 

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Martin said that the Government will be getting advice from Nphet after the public health team meets on 20 January. Cabinet will then decide on the loosening of the restrictions then, he said.

This means that the 8pm curfew won’t be lifted until the beginning of February, at the earliest.

At a Cabinet meeting today, ministers approved changes to Covid isolation rules in response to a shortage of workers across a variety of sectors.

Close contacts who have received a booster and have no Covid symptoms will no longer need to restrict their movements; all isolation periods for people with symptoms and who are testing positive will be reduced to seven days; and people who test positive on antigen tests will not need a PCR test to confirm the result.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Eamon Ryan said Cabinet would not be looking at the issue of easing restrictions on hospitality and indoor events again until the end of January, and “hopefully at the beginning of February we can review the restrictions again”.

Minister Ryan repeated the comments to reporters outside Government Buildings this morning: “I am very confident we will be able to ease restrictions as we go into February, but the details of that we won’t decide yet.”

As it stands, pubs and restaurants must close by 8pm, no indoor activities can take place after 8pm, outdoor events are limited to a capacity of 50%, and it is also advised that a maximum of four households can meet in one venue.

He said that the Government shouldn’t look too far forward as the focus should be on keeping hospital numbers down during what is expected to be a “short wave” of Covid-19, fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Isolation periods

At the moment, thousands of workers are estimated to be out sick with Covid-19 across the economy or out because they are restricting their movements, having been named a close contact of a confirmed case.

But on foot of advice from the Chief Medical Officer, Cabinet approved a reduction in the isolation periods for close contacts who have received a Covid-19 booster and have no symptoms.

Business representative groups including Ibec have called for the rules around close contacts to be reviewed in recent weeks in response to staffing issues.

But workers who spoke to The Journal this week said they were conflicted about potential changes to the rules, citing concerns about contracting the virus in the workplace.

A sales assistant at a major supermarket chain in Dublin, who wished to remain anonymous, said staffing shortages — due to his colleagues either being sick with Covid or being forced to restrict their movements — have put a huge strain on him and his co-workers.

“It’s been very stressful,” he said.

There are about 110 workers working here normally. Last week alone, there were 26 people out, between close contacts and people with Covid-19… so that’s put huge added pressure on the rest of us.

He said there is an expectation that those employees who are able to show up to work pick up the slack.

However, he added that there is still “huge anxiety” among his co-workers about the virus and for that reason, he said he was against shortening the isolation periods for close contacts.

Case numbers

These changes will come into effect at midnight tomorrow, it was confirmed today.

Speaking on Newstalk earlier, the Minister said that the daily Covid case numbers are “still very high, so we have to be careful and we still need to keep a close eye on ICU numbers and what the health outcome is”.

“So, we will hold steady for the next week for sure. We are not due to come back to look at those restrictions until later in January. That gives us plenty of time. I think we’re all agreed – we get to the end of this month and these measures will help.

We have to wait and see but that modelling should give us confidence that we will start to see those restrictions being lifted at the start of February. 

“I am confident we will be able to,” he said.

— Additional reporting by Ian Curran and Garreth MacNamee

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