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Close bars and restaurants at 5pm to combat a surge in the Omicron variant of Covid-19, says Nphet

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan

Hugh O'Connell and Philip Ryan

NPHET have recommended bars and restaurants close at 5pm to combat a surge in the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

In a letter from chief medical officer Tony Holohan to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last night, Nphet also recommended attendances at outdoor events be limited to 50pc or 5,000 attendees.

The public health team has also advised that indoor theatres, cinemas, entertainment, cultural and sporting events should also be subject to a 5pm curfew and attendance limited to 50pc.

The recommendation that attendance at outdoor entertainment and sports events should be limited to 50pc or 5,000 attendees should come into effect from next Monday, Nphet has advised.

The recommendation to significantly curtail opening times for hospitality came as a shock to the sector.

Government ministers were not anticipating such harsh restrictions.

The Restaurants' Association of Ireland described the 5pm curfew as an "effective closure order" on hospitality.

"A proposal for a 5pm closure of hospitality is effectively a lockdown of the sector," its chief executive Adrian Cummins said.

"This is another economic blow to a sector already flattened from restrictions over the past two years.

"We are calling on the Government to implement a sufficient financial support package that will sustain the industry at a critical time."

Dr Holohan’s letter was sent to the party leaders late last night. Cabinet ministers will meet today to discuss the Nphet advice and to decide on the level of activities families will be allowed to engage in over the Christmas period.

It comes amid a growing acceptance that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 already has a strong foothold here. Government sources told they anticipated new curbs on household visits, the hospitality sector and on large gatherings.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said even the calmest voices were now saying they were more worried than at any other time of the pandemic.

There are a number of large rugby games and horseracing events scheduled over the Christmas period.

Covid passes and fixed capacity limits do not currently apply for outdoor events. Chief medical officer Tony Holohan’s team is also believed to have discussed whether to tighten rules around household visits.

At present a person is allowed to welcome visitors from just three other households into their home.

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