'Nothing agreed' - Cabinet to decide on new restrictions recommended by NPHET
Cabinet is set to meet on Friday afternoon ahead of an address to the nation by the Taoiseach on the need for more Covid-19 restrictions amid serious concerns over the Omicron variant of the virus.
It comes after fresh recommendations from Nphet, calling for a 5pm curfew on hospitality and a cap on capacity at large outdoor events of 50%, or 5,000 people.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin will fly home from Brussels following a European Parliament summit to hold a sub-Cabinet committee meeting with coalition leaders Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan at 12.30pm.
A full Cabinet meeting will get under way at around 3pm on Friday.
Mr Ryan said Nphet’s recommendations – which stakeholders in the hospitality sector have called a de-facto closure – have not yet been agreed, but that action is needed.
“None of the details are agreed yet. Nphet have set out in their letter their recommendations. There may be variations on that. The key thing is that we do have a surge coming,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.
“All the international advice is that this new variant is more transmissible and could escape some of the vaccines. We still don’t know the level of health risk it carries.
“There will still be a level of socialisation. We can and will meet family. It is still a social Christmas.”
Mr Ryan said he expects Mr Martin will address the nation on the new measures on Friday evening.
“I would expect it is likely this evening. We need to give people certainty and we will,” he said.
“People are conscious, and we are very aware, that the new variant is a risk. We will still have a social Christmas but it needs to be in a careful way.”
The Vintners Federation of Ireland has said the 5pm curfew is “closure by another name”.
Chief executive Padraig Cribben told Newstalk Breakfast: “This is an absolute bombshell that nobody had anticipated. In essence, it is the equivalent of full closure for most businesses.
“Ninety-five percent of the business is done post-5pm in most outlets. There are many outlets around the country that don’t open until late afternoon.”
He said if the Government implements the recommendations, it will be “closure by another name”.
“If they do implement them, they have got to act like it is full closure and put the necessary supports in place,” he added.
Deputy Government chief whip and Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin tweeted: “The 5pm suggestion and the way it has been floated has caused enormous worry and stress to so many people and is an insult to our business people and workers in hospitality…
“After nearly 2 years of this, the vast majority of people know how to reduce risk and stay safe…”
Fianna Fail Senator Malcolm Byrne wrote: “I am totally opposed to the #NPHET proposal for a 5pm closing time. It will simply lead to an increase in house parties.”
Schools are unlikely to close early for the Christmas holidays however.
Mr Ryan said: “Our schools need to stay open – that’s critical for the health of our children.
“The evidence we’re seeing suggests that kids could be safer in a school environment than elsewhere. I know people have heard this, but this is true. Incidence rates are low in schools.”
Meanwhile, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the most vulnerable will all have received a booster vaccination by the end of December.
“We will get through this,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. “We are seeing people coming forward in really strong numbers.
“I would say to people… by the end of December, we will be through the most vulnerable people who were identified as a priority for vaccination.
“That is 2.2 million people over 50 years of age, medically vulnerable, immunocompromised or living in long-term care.
“The reality of that is that gives us higher protection to the vulnerable and that is a positive place to be.
“So, by the end of December, those 2.2 million people will either have been vaccinated, offered an appointment, or indeed have taken up the opportunity to walk in.”
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