THE Government has agreed to reject Nphet's advice for a new 5pm curfew on hospitality and instead implement an 8pm closing time until January 30.
The 8pm curfew will also apply to hotel bars and restaurants as well as other indoor events, including entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events.
In his announcement tonight, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the spread of Omicron will be unlike anything we’ve seen before.
He said omicron is “ripping through the population in other countries” and that “there is no silver bullet”.
"None of this is easy we are all exhausted with Covid,” he said.
“The twists and turns and the disappointments take a heavy toll on everyone
“We cannot wish it away and there is no silver bullet to fix it
“We talk about living with Covid and many think that means going back to life before Covid, it doesn’t.
“The news this evening will be deeply disappointing to many, it is not the news I wanted to bring you, the truth is we are in a much better place than this time next year and we will be in a much better place in 2022,” he added.
Mr Martin said the country is in a much better place with the virus than this time last year and that “we need to get to the other side of this Omicron wave safely”.
"Right now as I speak to you the omicron variant is exploding throughout Europe,” he said.
“The level of concern is the highest that I have seen, we are still in the early days of this new wave.
“We are going to see a massive rise in infections, over a third of all new cases are a result of omicron,” he added.
Other proposals agreed at Cabinet include a 100-person limit on attendees at weddings after 8pm.
The measures will come into effect from midnight this Sunday meaning that the 8pm curfew will apply from Monday onwards.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said “this is not the Christmas we expected” and it’s “beyond our worst fears” in a message to the hospitality sector.
He said that “the Omicron wave is going to come hard and fast, cases will break all records, perhaps as soon as next week”.
"There will be dark days in January again.
"I can’t promise that next summer or Christmas will be better but I promise we will do everything we can.
“I didn’t think it would go on this long, it has gone on for 2 years and can go on for several years, it has been a long war,” he added.
Nphet had recommended that a 5pm closing time for pubs and restaurants as well as a raft of new restrictions on indoor and outdoor events remain in place until January 30.
The recommendation came in the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan's letter to Health Stephen Donnelly last night.
There was significant opposition on the Government backbenches and among some ministers to the 5pm curfew on hospitality.
The Department of Health said today that Omicron makes up 35pc of the Covid-19 cases confirmed.
In addition to the curfew on hospitality, Nphet also recommended that attendances at outdoor events be limited to 50pc or 5,000 attendees. It has advised that indoor theatres, cinemas, entertainment, cultural and sporting events should also be subject to a 5pm curfew and attendance limited to 50pc of capacity.
Other Nphet advice which is being considered by Government this evening also states that close contacts of confirmed cases who have not been fully vaccinated and further boosted should restrict for 10 days.
The HSE will be asked to consider the most appropriate testing schedule for this cohort but the advice does not specify if it will be antigen or PCR testing.
It’s also understood that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has received advice from within his department that the quarantine requirements for people coming in from seven South African countries should be dropped.
However, they will still need to undergo the current testing requirements, but will not have to quarantine, unless they test positive.
A further 3,628 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed this evening, with 420 patients in hospital, of which 105 of them are in ICU.
The Coalition has been facing major backlash from backbenchers to the proposal to close pubs and restaurants at 5pm.
Seven Fianna Fáil senators took to the Leinster House plinth this afternoon saying that the recommended 5pm closing time for hospitality is a “step too far”.
Led by Senator Lisa Chambers, Senators Shane Cassells, Fiona O’Loughlin, Malcolm Byrne, Eugene Murphy, Pat Casey and Paul Daly, said that the 5pm closure is an effective shut down of the sector.
“That recommendation should not be accepted by Government. The Government have to consider the social and economic impact of those decisions,” she said.
She said that the Senators would not leave the party if Government made the decision to accept the 5pm recommendation and that they would support Government.
Ms Chambers said that the proposed 5pm closing for hospitality meant “many rural pubs can’t open at all as they often only open in the evening” .
She earlier said on Twitter: "People will socialise at home. Surely it’s better and safer to have regulated spaces like bars and restaurants?”
Senator Casey, who owns a hotel, said that it was closure of the sector “by stealth”.
“The 12 pubs of Christmas will be the 12 house parties of Christmas,” Senator Malcolm Byrne said.
He also said that closing cinemas or theatres at 5pm is a “nuts” idea.
Mr Byrne said he was “totally opposed” to the 5pm closing time and said it will “simply lead to an increase house parties.
Mr Murphy also tweeted: "As most pubs don't open until 6pm, I cannot see any possible proposal from NPHET to close by 5pm acceptable to Government."
Former Fine Gael rural affairs minister Michael Ring has called for the advice to be rejected, while his former Cabinet colleague Regina Doherty tweeted: “If Nphet are really saying that two double vaccinated and boosted people can’t have a pizza and a pint after 5pm then I give up.”
Former agriculture minister and Fianna Fáil backbencher Barry Cowen tweeted: “Obviously am not privy to specific details of Nphet recommendations but surely a 9 or 10pm curfew with weekly review of figures.
"Ramp up boosters with updated Covid certs for entrance to all indoor events. People open to compromise not confrontation in interest of public health."
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and senior ministerial colleagues now find themselves caught in a crossfire between the Nphet advice, and the views of several TDs and Senators who want the new rules to be watered down.
Nphet has also recommended that attendances at outdoor events be limited to 50pc or 5,000 attendees. It advised that indoor theatres, cinemas, entertainment, cultural and sporting events should also be subject to a 5pm curfew and attendance limited to 50pc of capacity.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has told Health Minister Donnelly in a letter that the new restrictions should come into effect as soon as possible and no later than midnight on Sunday.
As the Cabinet sub-committee and full Cabinet meet this Friday afternoon to consider the fresh advice from public health officials, TDs and Senators in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have expressed strong opposition and scepticism about the need to shutter hospitality at 5pm.
However, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has given a strong hint that the Government may be prepared to accept some or all of the Nphet advice, tweeting: “We're all feeling anger, frustration, dismay, depression but that cannot deflect us from making the right decisions to keep our people safe.”
Earlier, in a joint statement, FF senators Casey and Crowe condemned the proposed shutdown of all hospitality at 5pm as “disastrous for the thousands of workers in the Hospitality Sector and discriminatory as this will have a disproportionate effect on people living in Rural Ireland”.