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THE CABINET HAS decided that pubs and restaurants will have to close at 8pm starting from Monday, three hours later than NPHET’s recommendation. 

Ministers met today to discuss the National Public Health Emergency Team’s recommendations aimed at reducing the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced new restrictions in an address to the nation at 6pm.

Last night NPHET recommended that pubs and restaurants be shut from 5pm, and that the number of people attending sporting and live events be reduced.

Numerous government TDs and senators expressed anger at the 5pm recommendation throughout the day.

We’ll be adding all the relevant updates here throughout the day, so stay with us…

“The news will be deeply disappointing for many. It is not the news I wanted to bring you, nor is it the news you wanted to hear.

However, and this is important: the truth is that we’re in a much better place than we were last year.

“This Christmas, please be safe and look after each other,” the Taoiseach added.

Everything that can be done to get the booster into people’s arms is being done, the Taoiseach said. The testing regime is also being ramped up to help stem the spread of the new variant, he added.

However, because of the threat of Omicron, the following restrictions will be in place from Sunday:

  • Restaurants and bars (excluding takeaways/delivery) must close at 8pm,
  • No indoor events after 8pm,
  • Earlier indoor events capped at 50% or 1,000 attendees,
  • Outdoor events capped at 50% or 5,000 attendees, whichever lower,
  • Wedding receptions capped at 100 attendees.

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Addressing the nation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin says the Omicron variant is “exploding throughout Europe”.

“I spoke with European leaders yesterday, and the level of concern about what is coming is the highest that I’ve seen,” he said.

“It is here. It is in our country. We are going to see a massive rise in infections,” Martin warned.

The hospitality sector has reacted with anger following the announcement of further restrictions on trading hours.

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said: “This has been a devastating blow for hospitality businesses and employees this evening.

“The majority of hospitality businesses rely on income from the Christmas period to see them through the quieter first two months of the year. The loss of income over Christmas is about more than just the festive season, it is about surviving the winter months.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said the cabinet’s decision to close hospitality from 8pm was “a welcome acceptance of the intention of our advice”.

Nphet’s recommendation for a 5pm curfew was part of a “series of recommendations” aimed at reducing the incidence rate, Dr Holohan said.

“The key thing was to drive down, as much as possible, social contact. Contact is going to be a good deal greater in the evening time,” he added.

Holohan welcomed the move, saying it would impact the spread of Omicron.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will address the nation at 6pm and a press briefing will take place at 6:40pm.

8pm closing time for hospitality

The Journal understands that the cabinet has agreed to an 8pm closing time for the hospitality sector. Three hours later than the 5pm closing time recommended by NPHET.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ollie Crowe has told RTÉ’s Drivetime programme that he understands the closing time for hospitality has been pushed back from 5pm to 8pm.

Crowe, who is a publican in Galway city, said 8pm is “not viable” and not acceptable to the hospitality sector.

CMO Dr Tony Holohan, Deputy CMO Ronan Glynn and Philip Nolan, Chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, are currently briefing the media on the latest developments around Omicron. 

We’ll have updates here later. 

A further 3,628 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been notified in Ireland.

This morning there were 420 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of which 105 were in ICU.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it estimates that approximately 35% of reported cases are now the Omicron variant.

It’s all gone rather quiet as the cabinet meets to discuss NPHET’s recommendations and come to a conclusion on the next steps to take.

However, backbenchers are still voicing their concerns about the proposed 5pm closing time for hospitality. 

Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, Cathal Crowe says he has contacted several cabinet members today to outline why he opposes the measure.

The news today about the recommendations from NPHET regarding reducing the audience numbers for live events has led to worry in the sector.

Paul Hayes, director of An Táin Arts Centre in Dundalk, said today that the venue may now be forced to cancel all its remaining shows. “We will try and hold on and run shows if possible,” he said, adding that they could potentially run shows over a longer period and make sure they have people off the premises by 5pm.

The shows had already been curtailed by the previous announcement, and they cut the number of people attending and refunded tickets.

Hayes said that more notice for an action like this would have made it easier to swallow.
“I have sympathy for [the government] with Omicron but it’s not Living with Covid is it?” he said. “The sector’s morale is at a low ebb.” He added that he wants to know what the government’s plan is to bring the country back to more normality.

However, he does remains optimistic about the future of art: “We will bounce back. Arts and culture have been on a knife-edge for the last 25 years.” In the short term, measures like the EWSS, PUP and Arts Council grants have trickled their way down to An Táin, but financial issues into the longer term are more unknown, he told our reporter Tadgh McNally.

With all eyes on NPHET, Dr Tony Holohan’s Twitter account has retweeted a government message which urges people to assess the risk they face before meeting up with others.

With members of the government meeting NPHET to discuss the team’s recommendations, the Irish Independent is reporting that the public health advisors recommend that the 5pm closing time for hospitality remains in place until 30 January.

Following the Tánaiste’s tweet about positive swabs (which can be found below), The Journal has reviewed the figures and a higher number of positive swabs was recorded earlier this month, on 4 December, and also on several days in January, including on January 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8.

This was first noted on Twitter by Virgin Media’s Gavan Reilly.

Away from Ireland, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has announced the closure of cinemas, theatres and concert halls and restrictions on restaurant opening hours.

The government also plans to close other gathering places such as amusement parks and museums.

On the international front, the World Health Organization has granted emergency approval to the India-manufactured coronavirus vaccine Covovax.

The jab, produced by Serum Institute of India under licence from the US-based Novavax, will now be distributed as part of global vaccine-sharing system Covax, “giving a much-needed boost to ongoing efforts to vaccinate more people in lower-income countries”, the WHO said in a statement.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who is on the Cabinet Covid sub-committee, has noted that Ireland has recorded one of its highest ever number of positive laboratory swabs since the pandemic began.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Dr Mike Ryan says its crucial that people manage their social contacts and reduce their risk to the “absolute minimum” if they plan on having intergenerational family gatherings at Christmas.

“We all miss family, we all want to get together, we Irish are very social animals. We want to see people being able to come together in safety,” Ryan told RTÉ’s News At One programme.

So, I think people need to focus on being vaccinated, first and foremost. Maybe look at the gatherings you’re going to have, [do] you have to have so many gatherings?

Do they have to be so many people in the same place? Can you create more distance? Can people wear masks?

“Even in some situations where there are highly vulnerable people, can you do some antigen testing before, rapid testing, so you can be aware of everyone’s infection status,” he said.

Leader of the Seanad and Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty earlier offered a pretty withering analysis of the situation.

Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon has added his voice to the criticism of the proposed 5pm closing time for pubs and restaurants.

Christina also reported earlier today that a number of politicians in Leinster House said the recommendations are “madness” given that hospitalisations have reduced by 40% in the last three weeks.

You can read the full report here.

The Journal’s political correspondent Christina Finn reports from Leinster House where a group of Fianna Fáil senators have said the 5pm closure recommendation should be rejected.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) has also expressed its opposition to the proposed move, saying closing pubs at 5pm is “effectively a full lockdown of the trade that will have a devastating impact on members, their families and staff.”

“Allowing our members trade until 5pm is pointless. Over 90% of pub turnover is generated at night-time so closing early is not viable.

“In fact, any reduction in the current trading hours will crush many businesses. What is proposed is effectively full closure of the sector and would have to come with a full suite of supports,” Padraig Cribben of the VFI said.

Good afternoon and welcome to another day of waiting to hear what actions the government will take following NPHET recommendations.

NPHET’s advice has caused significant anger among the hospitality sector.

Gerry Daly, owner of the High Chaparral pub in Geashill, Co Offaly, said last night’s reports about a 5pm closing time has already affected his business.

Daly told The Journal that he has bought thousands of euro worth of stock and may now have nobody to sell it to during what is traditionally the busiest time of the year.

“This makes absolutely no sense to me. All the schools are riddled with it and we haven’t had one case in the pub,” he said.

Honestly, we have not had one linked back to us or any of the pubs here in the area. The government said they’re not shutting schools even though they’re all alive with the virus.

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