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Ireland brings in new restrictions ahead of Christmas due to ‘very stark’ health advice

Strict new limits on Ireland’s hospitality sector and home visits have been announced by the country’s prime minister.

From 7 December until 9 January, nightclubs will close and restaurants and bars will only be allowed to run table service – with a maximum of six people per booking.

Indoor events must operate at 50% capacity, while people should only have visitors from a maximum of three other households in their home.

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COVID-19: Your Omicron questions

Speaking in a televised address, Micheal Martin said: “The risks associated with proceeding into the Christmas period without some restrictions… is just too high.”

Latest COVID updates from the UK and around the world

He called the advice from health officials “very stark”.

“If Omicron takes hold and if it is more transmissible, the potential for a very serious crisis is obvious,” Mr Martin added.

According to Irish broadcaster RTE, Mr Martin said he understood the frustration the restrictions would cause but that “protection of public health is the government’s primary responsibility and we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty”.

Mr Martin said it was not about “going back to the days of lockdowns” but about adjusting to risk.

RTE said the hospitality restrictions included having one metre between tables, no multiple table bookings and people having to wear masks when not seated.

MICHAEL MARTIN

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Taoiseach Michael Martin said “the risks associated with proceeding into the Christmas period without some restrictions… is just too high”.

Ireland’s COVID unemployment payment scheme will temporarily return to help people who lose their jobs in the entertainment sector as a result of the new rules.

Nightclubs were only able to reopen in October, after more than 18 months shut.

The country has been reporting near-record case numbers since early November, despite 91% of eligible people

over 12 now fully vaccinated.

However, the death rate is much lower than previous waves.

Deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said Ireland was “facing a rather peculiar situation” because it was tightening rules when “the epidemiological picture is actually improving”, RTE reported.

Anyone arriving in Ireland will also need to provide a negative COVID test from this weekend, said transport minister Eamon Ryan.

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Govt’s ‘carry on’ with Xmas message

Downing Street suggested there were no plans to bring in more restrictions in England despite the actions of the Irish government.

The PM’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister set out our measures on Saturday to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Our priority is to gather all the evidence and data with regard to this variant.

“Our approach throughout the vaccination programme has been to promote both the safety and efficacy of the vaccinations.”

And speaking to reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK government is taking “a balanced and proportionate approach” to the new Omicron variant.

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The UK Health Security Agency has revealed that over half of people who have the new Omicron variant are double vaccinated.

“But, the key point, whatever the risk Omicron may pose or may not pose, the vaccine is always going to be your best protection.”

We know how successful they have been at weakening the link between infections and hospitalizations and deaths and our priority is encouraging people to come forward.”

One source told Sky News that the PM made a lot about being “tough” on international travel in his recent press conference for a reason, but that a decision on any further restrictions is not close.

Many governments have announced stricter rules due to the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, including travel restrictions and bans on large gatherings.

Scientists are concerned it could spread quicker and evade the protection given by prior infection or vaccination.

Twelve of the 22 known UK cases up to 30 November had been fully vaccinated, said health officials on Friday.

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Boris Johnson says ‘we’re not asking people to change the way they live their lives’ in reference to latest COVID guidance.

But much is still unclear as experts scramble to study cases of the variant – which was only recently discovered in southern Africa.

Cases have now been detected around the world and are so far very small compared with the dominant Delta variant. However, numbers are expected to grow.

The UK’s booster jab programme is being accelerated to help fight any spread of Omicron and mask rules have returned for shops and public transport.

Boris Johnson has said Christmas should go ahead “as normal as possible”, while Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden urged Britons to “keep calm and carry on with your Christmas plans”.