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New Covid restrictions come into effect in Ireland as almost 40% of over-18's receive booster

The latest restrictions will last until 30 January.

Updated Dec 20th 2021, 2:41 PM

IRELAND IS NOW second in the EU for the number of booster jabs administered, as new pandemic restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant come into effect today.

The figures, compiled by the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control (ECDC), show that Ireland has administered booster vaccines to 39.8% of the population aged over 18.

The only country higher than Ireland is Austria, with 47.5% of their adult population having already been boosted.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin thanked the public for getting their boosters as well as the GPs, pharmacists and vaccination teams administering the boosters around the country.

It comes as multiple new Covid-19 restrictions came into effect today as part of efforts to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, with the Chief Medical Officer advising individuals to think about activities that they absolutely need to do in the run up to Christmas.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said this morning that “record case numbers” are expected in the days ahead, but there are no plans for further restrictions.

Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the Government is not expecting the high cases numbers to translate to an increase in hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths to the same extent they did in previous Covid waves, but they are expecting more pressure on primary care centres and GP clinics. 

The new pandemic measures, agreed by Cabinet and announced on Friday, were introduced at midnight last night and will last until Sunday 30 January:

  • All restaurants and bars, excluding takeaways and delivery services, must now close at 8pm, and there are limits on attendance at indoor and outdoor events.
  • No indoor events, including entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events, will take place after 8pm. For events happening before that, attendance should be limited to 50% capacity or 1,000 attendees, whichever is the lower.
  • For outdoor events, attendance should be limited to 50% of venue capacity or 5,000 attendees, whichever is the lower.
  • Wedding receptions can have up to 100 guests, with a midnight end time.
  • For close contacts of Covid cases: fully-vaccinated household close contacts who are showing no symptoms now need to restrict their movements until they have three negative antigen tests taken within a five-day period.

Health Press Briefing 019 Dr Tony Holohan. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Speaking to RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, CMO Dr Tony Holohan said the Government had taken measures to reduce social mixing to a certain extent – but that individuals should also consider taking further precautionary actions. 

“These measures now that have been taken are intended to substantially cut the quantum of social contract across society.

Over the course of the coming days, think about the things you absolutely need to do, and the things that you may not need to do. That’s a difficult message of this time of year, I completely understand.

“You as an individual can still take a lot of actions to protect yourself,” he said, stressing the rules around those who have symptoms or are close contacts.

“Wearing face masks, meeting up outdoors, ventilating indoor places, avoiding crowds: All of these are the basic measures that have worked in the past to protect us from transmission that we think can work.”

In relation to whether schools will be closed in January, Dr Holohan said “we’re not going to get into speculation”, and when asked whether there would be more measures introduced before Christmas, he said “we’re not necessarily planning on that basis”. 

Dr Holohan said that reports in the Mail on Sunday yesterday that there was a firm plan to announce a lockdown on 30 December are “simply untrue”, and that there are no such plans, adding that they did not know how effective measures in place from today would be.

But he added: “We’re not going away for Christmas,” and that NPHET would be modelling the virus trajectory during the holiday season.

Businesses hit

Hospitality groups have warned that the restrictions will lead to widespread closures and redundancies in the sector.

Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), said: “The reality is this decision will decimate the trade that was already on its knees.”

Yesterday, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said that no government wanted to be in the position of making decisions that would cost jobs, but said the first duty was to protect the health of the population.

Asked about an estimate from the hospitality industry that 60,000 people in Ireland could lose their jobs, McGrath told RTÉ: “The numbers will be significant, certainly in the tens of thousands.”

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Omicron and the booster campaign

belgium-eu-eastern-partnership-summit Source: Johanna Geron/AP

The Taoiseach said on Friday that the new measures were necessary because of the rise in infections caused by Omicron.

He said: “Left unchecked, this new strain will represent a very significant threat to hospitals and critical care, but also a threat to all of society and the economy.”

Just weeks after the first Omicron case was identified in Ireland, it has now become the dominant strain of Covid.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has estimated that approximately 52% of reported cases are now due to the Omicron variant, which Dr Holohan said demonstrates how transmissible this variant is.

Speaking on Newstalk this Morning, the HSE’s head of the vaccination programme Dr Damien McCallion said that the rollout of the booster vaccine for people aged in their 20s and 30s was being finalised.

In response to long queues seen yesterday at walk-in vaccination centres, McCallion also said that surges at vaccination centres were to be expected because the rollout was expanded to a new age group of almost half a million people.

“We’ll be looking at the numbers, I suppose uptake is going to be crucial, even with the early vaccination campaign, it was really successful in terms of percentages we achieved because of the support of the public in coming forward,” he added.

Dr Holohan said about the efficacy of vaccines: “Their ability to limit transmission does wane after a period of time. But we think that the effect of the vaccine in protecting you from your infection becoming a severe infection is maintained through vaccination and that’s why the booster is really important – that will be maintained in the face of this new variant, as well as Delta. That’s really, really important.”

Contains reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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