Covid restrictions on hospitality and households for Christmas to be discussed

Further Covid restrictions for the Christmas season, including reduced capacity for pubs and indoor hospitality and limits on the number of households that can mix, are likely to be discussed by Ministers and senior officials today.

Ministers were last night awaiting recommendations of new Covid restrictions from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which met yesterday.

There was a wide expectation at all levels of Government that Nphet would propose further restrictions to deal with the current wave of cases and the threat from the new Omicron variant.

People may be asked to restrict the number of households they mix with at Christmas, with three households permitted to visit a fourth, while capacity limits on indoor hospitality, as well as a limit on the size of groups in pubs and restaurants, are also likely to be considered by Government.

Requiring Covid certs for entry to a wider range of settings is also thought to be among the measures.

“There is a mood of resignation around,” said one Cabinet Minister.

He said his colleagues were querying the need for further restrictions at this point as cases appeared to have plateaued and begun to fall, a view echoed by another senior Minister.

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU



However, several sources said that with the potential for the new variant to spread more quickly, it would be hard for the Government not to follow any new public-health recommendations.

Other sources familiar with discussions said there was also likely to be a focus on compliance with the existing regulations, while it is also thought likely that a package of supports for the hospitality industry will be introduced if the proposed restrictions are approved by Government.

Sources acknowledged the tensions between Nphet and the Government, particularly in the approach to schools.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, a leading member of Nphet, said yesterday he was “hopeful” schools could reopen after Christmas if case numbers had not increased and the Omicron variant was not circulating widely in the community.

But the Taoiseach and senior officials have repeatedly stressed in recent days that there is no question of closing schools.

Breakthrough infections

Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, has warned there will “probably” be breakthrough infections among people who receive Covid-19 vaccine booster doses.

He was responding to reports this week from Israel that two triple-vaccinated doctors had been infected with the Omicron variant and had shown mild symptoms of the disease.

Dr Henry said the HSE had so far found no cases of breakthrough infections among the boosted Irish population but predicted cases were likely as more people received third doses.

“The greater number of cases out there in the community, the greater amount of community transmission, the greater the likelihood is that you will see breakthrough infection.”

He told the HSE’s weekly Covid-19 briefing the early benefits from boosters were a “cause for hope” as new infections and hospitalisations among older age groups have fallen sharply,

The briefing heard case numbers in hospitals were “stabilising” but at “an extremely high level” presenting a “huge risk” to the health service heading into the winter period.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the numbers of people with Covid-19 in hospital and in intensive care units were “still far too high” with Christmas and New Year approaching and that they were having a “highly disproportionate impact” on the health service.

“We go into December on high alert,” he said.

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