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forced rethink Country set to endure another winter of restrictions after Government postpone plans

Strict rules for indoor hospitality will now remain in place and it will be February next year before people have fully returned to work

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Chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned of expected surge in hospitalisations next month.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned of expected surge in hospitalisations next month.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned of expected surge in hospitalisations next month.

The country will be forced to endure another winter of Covid-19 restrictions after the Government postponed plans to ease the remaining public health measures on Friday.

Strict rules for indoor hospitality will now remain in place for the coming months and it will be February next year before people have fully returned to work

However, restrictions on pub opening hours, numbers at weddings and attendance at sports events will be lifted.

The Government had planned to lift all restrictions this Friday but was forced to rethink its strategy due to the resurgent coronavirus putting a significant strain on the health service.

This included plans for removing all restrictions for restaurants, pubs and cafes, while also allowing nightclubs reopen for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) yesterday said it had been notified of 2,399 cases of Covid-19. It said 473 patients were hospitalised, of whom 74 were in intensive care units.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) insisted Digital Covid Certificates and mask-wearing should still be required for the hospitality sector until at least February due to the rising case numbers.

The Cabinet has signed off on a plan to allow opening hours for pubs return to normal and the number of people who can sit a table increase from six to ten. People will still not be permitted to sit at bar counters as businesses will be permitted to offer only table service.

Crowd capacity limits for large outdoor gatherings such as matches in sports stadiums will also be completely dropped.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s team said nightclubs could reopen but only if protective measures were put in place including the use of Covid certificates.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said some work would have to be done with the nightclub industry to establish how they could reopen safely. However, he said he did expect dancing to be permitted.

There is some concern among cabinet ministers about the decision to allow nightclubs to reopen while case numbers are still high.

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Speaking on the RTÉ’s Six One News, the Taoiseach urged people not to walk out of restaurants or pubs where Covid certificates are not being asked for on entry.

“If I’m going into a restaurant and someone doesn’t look for your vaccination cert, we should ask, ‘Why aren’t you looking for my cert?’” Mr Martin said.

Nphet also called for more enforcement of the rules on hospitality as research is showing some businesses are not asking customers for certificates or identification.

It warned that restrictions may have to be imposed if the current rise in cases is not addressed over the coming weeks and month.

In his letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Dr Holohan said: “In this regard, compliance with basic public health measures by the general public and across sectors will be critical.”

He warned that daily Covid-19 cases could increase to a peak of between 2,500 and 3,000 per day with up to 1,000 people with the virus in hospital in the course of November

He said if this occurs, we could expect a peak of 800-1,000 people in hospital in late November, of whom 150-200 would require critical care.

There would be around 2,000 new admissions to hospital and more than 300 admissions to ICU between now and the end of the year. Nphet said the return to the work place should continue of a “phased and cautious” basis but also said people who can work from home should.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “full return” to offices will take place next spring and insisted government guidance now was that a “phased return” to the office was “possible”.

“People going back to the office for specific business purpose, like a meeting or training for example, or inductions, that is allowed.” He said that employers should facilitate employees if they wanted to continue working from home.

“But bear in mind, there are also people who have been working from home with a laptop on the bed for 18 months now, and they really want to get back to the office.

“And if that can be facilitated, if they can be in an office on their own or in an office where they’re socially distanced from other people, that should be facilitated too,” he added.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised the Government for failing to invest in the health service, which she said had resulted in the postponement reopening plans.

The Taoiseach has to have known that this crisis would hit our hospitals hard in the wintertime,” she said.

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