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Ireland has imposed new restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, including an 8 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants until the end of January and limits on the number of people who can attend weddings and sporting events.
The controversial measures, a week before Christmas, were nevertheless less severe than what had been recommended by the National Public Health Advisory Team (NPHET), which had urged reception places to close at 5 p.m.
Health experts say Omicron now accounts for 35% of cases and is growing exponentially. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Thursday it was 27%.
“None of this is easy. We are all exhausted from Covid, ”Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in a televised address. “But this is the reality we are facing. We cannot wish it and there is no silver bullet to fix it.”
Publicans had expressed outrage at the recommendations to close bars at 5 p.m.
“Christmas has been called off for our industry,” Donal O’Keefe, managing director of the Licensed Vintners Association of Ireland, told RTÉ earlier before the cabinet backed down from the recommendation.
But some politicians believed the 8 p.m. curfew might just encourage people to continue partying in private homes later.
Under the new rules, no indoor events will be allowed after 8 p.m. Indoor events earlier in the day will be limited to 50% capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less. For outdoor events, attendance is 5,000 people or 50% of capacity.
Weddings can still take place after 8 p.m. but must be limited to 100 guests.
The government has also tightened the rules on testing and restricting travel for people who have been in contact with someone with Covid. Everyone who arrives will need a negative test, regardless of their immunization status.