Taoiseach says he shares public's 'frustration' at renewed Covid-19 restrictions
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the country that he shares “the disappointment and frustration that this will cause” as he announced renewed Covid-19 restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sectors on Friday evening.
He said that when he spoke about the recent rise in cases, he had asked that people reduce their social interactions.
“You did all that and as a country we pulled it back, with enormous effort, our hospitals held,” he said. “We have stabilised the surge”.
“However, just as getting a handle on it reports began to emerge of a new and potentially more dangerous version of this virus,” he said, adding that the government will “do whatever we reasonably can to stop this new variant circulating in the country”.
Q&A: What do the new restrictions mean for Christmas activities?
The new measures Mr Martin went on to outline include a recommendation that no more than four households should mix over the festive period (one hosting, three visiting), the closing of nightclubs and a cap of of six people on the number of people that can seated at tables in bars and restaurants which must close at midnight. Hotel bars and restaurants will also have to ask patrons for the pass, meaning residents in hotels now have to produce it as well.
Capacity at indoor events like concerts will again be reduced to 50 per cent while the digital Covid pass will be extended to gyms and leisure centres, apart from access to swimming pools.
The measures will come back into force on December 7th and be in place until January 9th, 2022.
The announcement comes as 5,419 new cases were reported on Friday alongside a warning from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that the Omicron variant could drive cases to between 6,000-15,000 per day after Christmas.
Mr Martin said that the experience to date shows that if Omicron is as transmissible as feared, it will be “impossible” to stop it coming into the State at a more serious level.
“The challenge we face is that while we have stabilised the surge of cases in the country the daily case numbers are still very high,” he said. The chief medical officer and public health officials have been “exceptionally clear in their advice to Government,” he said, adding that the risk of proceeding without further restrictions is “just too high”.
“The protection of public health is the Government’s primary responsibility and we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty”. He added: “We will do whatever we need to do to safely steer our society and economy through this”.
In words directed towards the children of Ireland, he said: “You are a very special generation, thank you for what you’ve done and what you continue to do.”
“This latest twist is disappointing but we are nowhere near back where we were,” he said, adding that the country would persevere through the “spirit of resilience” and of “solidarity” and “trust in science” and a “spirit of community”.Meeting
Nphet had met on Thursday to consider advice for the Government on the latest pandemic situation, at a time when Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised at a high level and further information on the Omicron variant is being awaited.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Martin and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath met representatives of the hospitality industry, who raised concerns about the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) being cut earlier this week. The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said the meeting, which heard calls for a comprehensive support package for the sector, was “positive and constructive”.
“While no decision was made at the meeting, Government has confirmed that hospitality businesses will be supported over the next number weeks due to recognition that business has substantially declined,” RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said, adding that hospitality representatives had asked the Government to establish a long-term plan for the viability of the sector.
Pádraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, said he believed “those at the top of Government” understood their concerns and that he would expect any announcements by the Government on Nphet advice to be “accompanied by some supports for the sector”.
The VFI said the Taoiseach said he understood that public health messaging asking people to avoid socialising was having a hugely detrimental impact on the trade in what should be the busiest period of the year for pubs.Testing for travellers
Separately, the Government has notified airlines that the introduction of a system of PCR and antigen testing for passengers arriving into Ireland has been delayed by 48 hours.
The measure was due to come into force on Friday, but Aer Lingus said airlines had been informed on Thursday night that the regulations would now begin on Sunday. All arrivals into the State – whether vaccinated or not – will need a negative Covid-19 test result from then onwards.
Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be a professionally administered test. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours.
Earlier, Maynooth University professor of immunology Paul Moynagh said the latest restrictions reportedly proposed by Nphet could lead to some benefits but seem ed “random and arbitrary”.
He told Newstalk Breakfast that “big mistakes” have been made with regard to messaging to the public.
“Back in September contact tracing was stood down the reason being that children were missing too much school. But we had the option of keeping contact tracing and using antigen testing. And there has been a resistance over the last year from Nphet in terms of using antigen testing,” he said.
“We saw over the last number of days the reluctance of Nphet again to impress advice from experts in the area of ventilation and air filtration. There seems to be this reluctance to accept scientific advice from outside.”
Prof Moynagh said there was a need to look at this reluctance and “learn from our mistakes”.
“Whereas at the moment it seems that mistakes are made and that narrative is defended. And again we end up now with new restrictions that I am not convinced are going to be very impactful,” he said.