Covid: Taoiseach refuses to rule out the return of more restrictions

New Covid-19 restrictions have been imposed for the first time since the start of the year in a last-ditch effort to ensure there is no lockdown before Christmas.

ith new case numbers continuing to rise, Taoiseach Micheál Martin once more called for a “collective effort” to tackle the virus and warned it “remains to be seen” whether more restrictions would be needed over the coming weeks.

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“We are not ruling out any further measures and Nphet can come back at any particular time,” he said.

Mr Martin insisted the country would be now in lockdown if it were not for the national vaccination programme and the recently started booster campaign.

The Taoiseach’s comments came after he announced a series of new Covid restrictions, including an instruction for people to travel to work only if it is completely necessary.

A curfew for the hospitality sector was also introduced. All restaurants, pubs and nightclubs will not be permitted to remain open past midnight from tomorrow. The move comes less than four weeks after nightclubs were allowed to reopen.

The Cabinet also agreed to make it a legal requirement for people to show Covid passes when going to the cinema or theatre. Most cinemas and theatres are already requiring people to show the certificates but it will be now signed into law under measures agreed by ministers.

Household close contacts of people who get a positive PCR test will be required to restrict their movements for five days, even if they are vaccinated.

During this period they will have to take three separate antigen tests and they will be permitted to return to normal activities only if all three tests are clear. If they get a positive result they will be asked to take a PCR test.

The Taoiseach was forced to clarify that the rules around restricting movements would apply to teachers after Labour Party leader Alan Kelly claimed Mr Martin told him in the Dáil that the new regulations for close contacts would not apply to the education sector.

Mr Martin said he was “very annoyed” by Mr Kelly’s claims and said he never made the comment while insisting the five-day rules will apply to teachers. Mr Kelly responded that he “did not misconstrue” what the Taoiseach said.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath is examining how to subsidise the price of antigen tests to ensure more people use them.

The HSE’s vaccine booster campaign will be ramped up over the coming weeks and anyone over the age of 50 is now eligible for a third shot.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly reinstated the Vaccine Taskforce to ensure the booster programme is as effective as the original vaccination programme.

Despite the impact of the new measures on staff in the hospitality sector, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys insisted she would not be reinstating the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for people who lose their job due to restrictions.

Ms Humphreys insisted there were lots of job opportunities for unemployed people.

“This is a curfew, it’s not closure. We’re not in a lockdown situation as was the case previously when the PUP was needed. We’re not closing down businesses en masse as was the case previously,” the Fine Gael minister insisted

However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the Government to bring back the payment for people who would be affected by the Government’s new restrictions.

Ms McDonald also accused the Government of “dithering” in its response to the latest spikes in cases and said it was unable to take on the challenges posed by the fourth wave of the virus.

The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland also called for the reinstatement of PUP and said the curfew would lead to job losses across the sector.

Vintners Association of Ireland chief executive Padraig Cribben said the curfew would affect businesses at a “critical time of year” and called for more State supports.

The Taoiseach said the cancellation of large Christmas parties was a “sensible move” – but stopped short of calling for an outright ban on such events.

He noted some corporate businesses cancelled large outings of 100 to 200 people next month. “I think that’s sensible,” he said while declining to state specifically that all company Christmas parties should be cancelled.

He acknowledged the decision to implement a midnight curfew “effectively does curtail nightclubs” and said it was “awful” that this decision had to be taken. Nphet did not specifically advise this measure, Mr Martin said, but added that he had spoken to the chief medical officer, who agreed with the move.

He separately warned of a rise of non-Covid cases in hospitals and GP practices since restrictions were eased. 

He said that in the six weeks to mid-November 2019, the number of children admitted to hospital was below 12,000, while in the same six-week period in 2021, more than 20,000 children have been cared for in hospitals.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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