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New Covid restrictions in Ireland include six person limit in bars and restaurants
3 December 2021, 20:01 | Updated: 3 December 2021, 20:10
Ireland has imposed limits on gatherings and closed nightclubs over Christmas and New Year’s amid fears of the Omicron Covid variant.
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Despite the Republic confirming just one case of the new strain so far, strict social distancing rules have been forced on bars and restaurants, with up to six adults allowed per table.
Entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events must be completely seated and run at 50% capacity.
And Ireland’s Covid-19 pass will be extended to gyms, leisure centres and hotel bars and restaurants.
Visits to private homes should be limited to up to three other households but “flexibility” may need to be shown, said Ireland’s Taoiseach, Micheal Martin.
"The risks associated with proceeding into the Christmas period without some restrictions to reduce the volume of social contacts is just too high," he said in a speech to the nation on Friday.
He added that he "simply cannot" risk Omicron being a threat, though admitted if it does not represent as serious a problem as feared, it will "come as a great relief to us all".
The measures are due to last from December 7 to January 9, covering a period when more people will gather to celebrate the festive period and the arrival of 2022.
The prospect of mixing has caused worries the Omicron variant, which experts are racing to learn more about, could spread easier.
Scientists are trying to establish if it spreads easier and reduces vaccine effectiveness – though it has been reiterated that jabs are still the best defence against serious illness from coronavirus infection.
"My message this evening is a difficult one," Mr Martin said.
"I understand and I share the disappointment and frustration this will cause for many of you.
"This is not about going back to the days of lockdowns.
"Across the country, very many people in the hospitality and entertainment industries will be bitterly disappointed by this news.
"Many of them will be fearing for their livelihoods.
"I want to reassure them that, just as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, the Government will stand by them and ensure that they have the financial supports necessary to weather this latest storm and to stay intact until we are out of it."
The Irish government was warned by experts that Covid cases could rise to 15,000 a day after Christmas if Omicron became the dominant variant.
It has already agreed to make people confirm a negative Covid test before arriving in the country.
The UK imposed new measures on Tuesday, including introducing mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport in England, and requiring arrivals to quarantine until they get a negative PCR test result.
The rules will be reviewed within three weeks' time.