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exclusive Nphet advise government to close pubs and restaurants again on December 28


Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

The National Public Health Emergency Team has urged the Government to reimpose restrictions on household visits and the hospitality sector from December 28.

In a letter to government, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan’s team said home visits should be reduced to just one other household from three days after Christmas Day:

Nphet also said pubs and restaurants should close from this date.

The recommendations are made against the backdrop of rising new Covid-19 cases since the lockdown ended on December 1.

The cabinet will consider the recommendations next week.

Speaking on RTÉ Six One earlier, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he was “very worried” about the growing cases numbers and confirmed that Nphet have recommended restrictions on household visits and on the hospitality sector be brought in before New Year’s Eve.

The Taoiseach said Nphet’s worries stem from a rise in cases among all ages and the resulting effect this may have on hospitalisations, ICU admissions and mortality.

“While the rise in the second wave was largely in younger people so it did not have the same effect on hospitalisations and ICUs,” Mr Martin said, adding that the healthcare system in Ireland is in good shape this winter, but said “we want to keep it that way.”

“[We] will give people plenty of notice on whatever decisions the government take, but we are mindful of the rising numbers. When they get to a certain level they can rise exponentially.”

Mr Martin said people should act as if they have the virus and don’t want to pass it on to people.

“I think Christmas is about family but we need to watch the inter-generational mix. It is extremely important that we all wear masks, remain vigilant and mind ourselves.”

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“We are concerned that when we look around, Holland and Germany are closing down for Christmas, Northern Ireland is under huge pressure and the UK is under severe pressure,” the Taoiseach said.

Tonight Tánaiste Leo Varakdar admitted the restrictions were very likely to be imposed on the hospitality sector before the end of the year and that it will come as a “devastating blow”.

Speaking on Prime Time, Mr Varadkar said Level Five restrictions were “not inevitable” but said new restrictions would amount to shutting the hospitality sector once again.

“What Nphet is recommending is that we re-impose some restrictions in between Christmas and New Year’s, not getting to January 6 as we had hoped.

“The kind of restrictions we would be thinking about imposing between Christmas and New Year’s are restrictions on hospitality, essentially closing hospitality again and limiting household visits but not imposing a total ban on them”.

Retail and personal services would stay open, including non-essential retail, the Tánaiste said.

Mr Varadkar admitted the news will be a bitter pill to swallow for owners of pubs, restaurants and hotels but said the government may be forced into action.

“The difficulty is that the cases have started to rise again, particularly in the last couple of days. The number of people who have tested positive in the last seven days is 25pc higher than the seven days previous. The positivity rate is rising, too, which is concerning.

The Tánaiste said the Government would not rush into a decision and “while it is not likely, case numbers may stabilise in the coming days”.

“We do want to wait those couple of days to take advice from other sources and see what those industries have to say. There have been periods before where cases rose suddenly then stabilised. I’m not saying that is going to happen, but I think it is prudent to wait those couple of days.

“We’d still be giving businesses seven-10 days notice if we make an announcement on Tuesday,” Mr Varadkar said.

This comes as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil the R-number, or reproduction of the virus is now between 1.1 and 1.3, meaning one infected person will spread the disease to more than one other.

All lead indicators are “pointing to a serious increase in cases,” he said, in comments that will heighten fears that a January lockdown could follow within weeks.

He said he had received a “very sobering” briefing from public health officials that the incidence of the disease is increasing and must inevitably grow with the relaxation of controls for Christmas.

“We have already seen the number of personal contacts rise,” he said, despite a stream of messages asking people to limit their socialising and stressing that every contact counts.

The virus was between 0.9 and 1 last week, meaning it was contained, but it is now increasing again, Mr Donnelly said.

The situation was precarious, he warned, adding that an R-number above 1.2 would mean that “cases can rise very, very quickly.”

Positivity levels seen in testing is also up, as are referrals for PCR testing, he said, while doctors are recording flu-like symptoms among an increased number of patients attending their surgeries.

He warned that all the lead indicators “are all pointing to a serious increase in cases and we’ve seen the number of personal contacts rise”.

The number of personal contacts for every individual who tests positive has risen in the last week from 2.8 recent to 3.6 today, a rise of more than a quarter.

“Ireland has done the best in the western world as a nation and as a body politic,” he said, with all working together to drive the virus down and “keep people alive.”

Minister Donnelly gave the opening statement in a Dáil slot on the Covid-19 taskforce.

He had held a long conversation with the Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn, and the latest information was “very sobering,” Mr Donnelly said.

But Ireland was in the privileged position of citizens being seeing friends and family at Christmas because of the six-week Level 5 lockdown, he said.

Mr Donnelly said he would appeal to the public to follow and act on the advice of Dr Ronan Glynn to reduce the number of contacts they planned to have over the festive season. It was vital to the suppression of the virus now and into the future.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe said he despaired of the constant public “rumour mill,” particularly as to whether schools were closing. The Government had given a commitment that schools would keep open, he said.

“The Education sector has been one of the real success stories in how we have responded to this pandemic,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe said he and his family and colleagues would be taking the vaccine, and he begged people not to knowing spread any anti-vaccine propaganda. He asked that they remember that they had an impact on the health and lives of other people.

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