'The risk is just too high' - Taoiseach confirms further Covid restrictions for Christmas period

'The risk is just too high' - Taoiseach confirms further Covid restrictions for Christmas period

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressing the Nation, at Government Buildings this evening. Picture: Julien Behal.

The Taoiseach has announced a raft of further Covid-19 restrictions for the country, including a tightening of rules for restaurants and pubs, the closure of nightclubs, and limits on household visits over the Christmas period.

Among the measures announced this evening are:

  • The closure of nightclubs from December 7 until January 9;
  • The return of a strict social distancing requirement in all bars and restaurants;
  • Table service only;
  • A one-metre distance between tables; 
  • A maximum of six adults per table;
  • No multiple table bookings;
  • A requirement that masks be worn when not at the table; 
  • And the continuation of a midnight closing time.

  • For entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events, there will be a maximum of 50% capacity, which must all be fully seated. 
  • At these events, face masks must be worn at all times unless eating or drinking.
  • Covid Passes will now also be required for gyms, leisure centres, hotel bars and restaurants.
  • Vaccine passes and 50% capacity limits do not apply to weddings, however.

In addition, Nphet has advised that visits to private homes over the Christmas period should be kept to a maximum of three other households (four households in total) at any one time. 

This household visit rule will only be advisory, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has confirmed, noting that gardaí will not be checking people's homes.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will also reopen next week to those in the hospitality and events sector who have lost their jobs, and the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) will be extended to a maximum of €500 per week.

The CRSS will change to a weekly payment, businesses affected by new restrictions can apply to help with running costs, subject to terms and conditions.

The Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) will also remain at the current rate.

Speaking at a press briefing following the Taoiseach's announcement, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the moves were "precautionary" due to the new Omicron Covid variant.

"We can't ignore it, particularly this time of year, that's why precautions are needed for a period.

"We will still be able to meet up, travel and work," he said.

"Church services, outdoor gatherings, weddings can still go ahead.

"It's just being sensible and clever, minimize and reducing risk is why the measures have been introduced today."

The Tánaiste said the Government was reacting to very serious public health advice.

"Increased social mixing over Christmas, flu season and Omicron, those three risks are why we are making this announcement here today," he said.

Also at the briefing, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien announced an extension of the current targeted commercial rates waiver for the first three months of 2022.

The waiver will specifically target those businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sector who are impacted by continued restrictions.

'We will get through this together' 

In an address to the nation from Government Buildings this evening, Micheál Martin said he understood and shared "the disappointment and frustration" his announcement would cause.

He commended people for reducing social interactions, getting vaccines and boosters in recent weeks, but said the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant required a reevaluation of public health guidelines.

“Just a few weeks ago South Africa was reporting approximately 300 cases per day," he said.

"Yesterday it reported 11,500 new cases, on Wednesday it was 8,500, up on 4,500 the day before and 2,200 on Monday."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: 'The protection of public health is the government's primary responsibility and that we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty.' Picture: Julien Behal
Taoiseach Micheál Martin: 'The protection of public health is the government's primary responsibility and that we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty.' Picture: Julien Behal

Mr Martin said Government would do “whatever we reasonably can to stop this new variant from circulating in the country.” 

“The challenge we face is that while we have stabilised the surge of cases in the country, the daily case numbers are still very high,” he said. 

Indeed, just moments before the Taoiseach began to speak, officials from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) confirmed a further 5,419 new cases of Covid-19 here.

He said that the increased social mixing that normally comes with Christmas would put further pressure on hospitals in any case, but that if the Omicron takes hold in Ireland is more transmissible, the was the potential for "a very serious crisis is obvious."

As such, the Taoiseach announced that government will adopt all of Nphet's advice after a stark warning from public health officials this afternoon.

From Tuesday, December 7, nightclubs will close and household visits will be restricted to three visiting families.

"The CMO and our public health experts have been exceptionally clear in their advice to government.

The risks associated with proceeding into the Christmas period without some restrictions to reduce the volume of personal contact is just too high. 

"I've always been straight with you as Taoiseach that the protection of public health is the government's primary responsibility and that we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty."

The Taoiseach said that he was aware the hospitality and entertainment industries would be "bitterly disappointed by this news" but stated that the government would support those who lost their jobs due to these new restrictions.

"Many of them will be fearing for their livelihoods. I want to reassure them that, just as we have done since the beginning, the government will stand by them and ensure that they have the financial supports necessary to weather this storm," he said.

"We will continue with this approach for those employers and workers affected by tonight's developments."

The Taoiseach went on to address the children of the nation directly, thanking them for their cooperation thus far.

"I know that they carry a lot of worry on their shoulders," he said.

"A lot has been asked of you in the last year. You've had to spend less time with your friends, special occasions, or just to enjoy normal life.

"I acknowledge that we're asking you to wear masks in school and soon we may be asking you to get vaccinations." 

He said the country's children had been "extraordinary" and had done what was asked, "without complaint."

"You've done it not just for yourselves but for your parents, your grandparents your community and your country. You are a very special generation. Thank you for what you've done and what you continue to do. "

Ending his speech, Mr Martin said the country would get through this latest twist in the Covid story "by drawing on the same spirit of resilience that has got us to this point." 

"The same spirit of solidarity and trust in science that has given us the most vaccinated population in Europe, and the same spirit of community, that defines us a nation.

"We will get through it together," he added.

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