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harsh warning Omicron will not peak for six weeks and the pandemic could last for years

  • ‘It’s a long war: pandemic could go on for years’ – Varadkar
  • 70,000 jobs on the line as 8pm closing time starts on Monday
  • New ‘stay-at-home’ rules for close contacts as cases to soar

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The Government yesterday rejected Nphet’s advice to close hospitality from 5pm and instead opted for a curfew of 8pm. Pictured, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

The Government yesterday rejected Nphet’s advice to close hospitality from 5pm and instead opted for a curfew of 8pm. Pictured, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

The Government yesterday rejected Nphet’s advice to close hospitality from 5pm and instead opted for a curfew of 8pm. Pictured, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

The Omicron wave threatens to overwhelm hospitals and will not peak for another six weeks amid warnings the pandemic could last for years.

Last night Taoiseach Micheál Martin introduced a raft of Covid-19 restrictions, including 8pm closing times for pubs and restaurants, until January 30 in an effort to limit the spread of the variant.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar indicated the number of cases of the variant would “break all records” as soon as next week.

Mr Varadkar described it as a “long war” with Covid-19 and said the pandemic may go on for “several years”.

“And perhaps in advance of those winters and those variants, we should try to have periods of freedom and give people a bit of a break, an opportunity to de-mob if you like, during this long war,” he said, adding that we may have to accept that we “go backwards on occasion”.

The Government rejected Nphet’s advice to close hospitality and entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events from 5pm and instead opted for a curfew of 8pm, which will kick in on Monday.

The Taoiseach said the spread of Omicron will be unlike anything we’ve seen before and that it is “ripping through the population in other countries” and that “there is no silver bullet”.

“We are going to see a massive rise in infections, over a third of all new cases are a result of Omicron,” he added.

Hospitals could be struggling with between 650 and 2,000 Covid-19 patients, fuelled by an Omicron surge.

The numbers of patients in ICU with the virus could breach 200 depending on its rapid spread and how it impacts protection from vaccines.

The projections have been drawn up as part of modelling by Nphet. A more optimistic forecast is that between 650 and 1,000 Covid-19 patients will need to be hospitalised. There could be between 8,000 and 20,000 cases a day in January.

Professor Philip Nolan, head of modelling at Nphet, said he believes “everything must go in our favour for this to be manageable”.

He said: “The risks of doing nothing or moderate measures are far too high.”

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The wave is already brewing before Christmas and will hit Ireland hardest in January – but it is unlikely to start declining in case numbers until the end of the month and it will be significantly longer in 2022 before hospitals with the sickest of patients see pressure reduced.

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Dr Holohan said the “risk of a surge in disease is very high”.

“The level of infection is such that at peak, between 2pc and 5pc of the population could be infected, and between 6pc and 25pc of the population could be a close contact of an infected person,” he said.

Close contacts of confirmed cases must restrict their movements for 10 days, while those who have had boosters jabs must do so for five.

It comes as 3,628 new cases were confirmed yesterday, with 420 Covid-19 patients in hospital, including 105 in intensive care.

In the coming days, cases and hospitalisations are likely to continue to decline but the spiral in infection is looming nearer.

Even if it is less severe, a small percentage of a large number of cases is still a large number, warned chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday.

The Cabinet also agreed a 100-person limit on attendees at weddings, which must end at midnight.

Attendance at indoor events should be limited to 50pc of venue capacity or 1,000 attendees, whichever is the lower, which includes cinemas.

The Government is estimating that the new rules could cost between 50,000 and 70,000 people their jobs in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Varadkar said they would come up with a package of financial supports akin to what businesses received during previous Level 5 lockdowns.

Despite the Government deciding on a later closing time of 8pm, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was happy with this later time, saying there was a need for “a significant reduction” in opening hours.

He said that the “majority of people” will not go on from pubs at 8pm to house parties.

Making a case for early hospitality closing times in his letter, Dr Holohan said: “Nphet recognises that closing hospitality at 5pm will result in some element of displacement of socialisation into private households.

He said this “is likely to result in substantially less social contact overall than would occur in restaurants and bars operating as they do at present”.

Separately, Mr Varadkar also said the EU Digital Covid Cert will be updated and reissued to include the booster jab as soon as from next month, saying that people who want to travel abroad should get their booster now.

People in their 40s will be able to get a Covid-19 booster vaccine from Sunday, it emerged last night.


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