- Government approves additional public health measures to help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Extra economic supports approved for sectors impacted by public health measures.
- Limited re-opening of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment approved for workers who are temporarily laid off due to the impact of public health measures.
- Government notes strong public health advice on household visits and the acknowledged need for flexibility around the immediate Christmas period.
The COVID-19 situation in Ireland remains of concern and is delicately balanced and Ireland remains vulnerable to a further deterioration in the disease profile depending on a number of factors, including levels of social contact in the coming weeks and over the festive period, adherence to basic public health protective measures and levels of immunity across the population, and the potential impact of the recently identified Omicron variant which remains uncertain at present.
The Government is acutely aware of the impact that new measures will have on sectors such as hospitality, the night-time economy, and the arts and entertainment sectors.
While hospitalisations and ICU admissions appear to have stabilised at a high level over recent days, this is not yet an established trend and the current high level of COVID-19 continues to have a significant and sustained impact across all aspects of the health service, including public health, testing and tracing services, general practice, as well as the broader primary care services and the acute hospital system, and poses a risk to the health system, particularly over the Winter period.
Public Health Measures
Following public health advice, the following measures will be introduced with effect from 7th December and remain in place until the 9th January:
- Strict social distancing is required in all bars and restaurants, including hotels (reverting to pre-22nd October measures), including:
- Table service only (no counter service);
- 1 metre between tables;
- Maximum 6 adults per table (maximum 15 persons when including children [aged 12 and younger], no multiple table bookings and no intermingling;
- Masks when not seated at table; and
- Closing time remains unchanged (i.e. midnight closing time for all on-licenced premises).
- Maximum 50% capacity at indoor entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events which must be fully seated. This does not include religious or educational events or normal workplace business activity. Face masks should be worn at all times unless eating or drinking.
- Requirement for COVID Pass (vaccination or recovery) for gyms and leisure centres (excluding access to swimming pools or standalone swimming pool facilities) and hotel bars and restaurants (i.e. removing exemption for residents). With appropriate exemptions for those for whom a hotel setting is their permanent resident (e.g. those in emergency accommodation or other state-supported accommodation arrangements).
- Nightclubs will regrettably not be able to open.
- There will be no change to weddings or outdoor gatherings.
Economic and Income Supports
The Government recognises that today’s decisions, coming in addition to those of 16th November, will have a particular impact on sectors such as hospitality, the night time economy, and the arts and entertainment sectors.
In addition to existing economy-wide schemes, including the EWSS, which will remain in place at current rates of payment and qualification criteria, the Minister for Finance is introducing a new scheme for businesses in the hospitality sector that are subject to restrictions on operating. This will adjust the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to support businesses whose trade is significantly impacted and which are subject to regulatory restrictions on operating. This will involve a weekly payment of payment of 12% of turnover for qualifying businesses. Further details will be provided by the Department of Finance.
There will also be a further extension of the current targeted Commercial Rates Waiver for the first quarter of 2022. This will be put in place at an additional cost of approximately €62.3m.
The Government is also making additional funding of €25m, in addition to the allocation of €25m already provided for in Budget 2022, to support the live entertainment sector.
The Government has also agreed to a limited re-opening of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for workers who are temporarily laid off due to the impact of these public health restrictions. There will be a number of refinements to the scheme design to target it more effectively. Further details will be made available by the Department of Social Protection.
Visits to Private Homes
Government also noted the strong public health advice is that visits to private homes over the coming weeks:
- should be kept to a maximum of three other households (i.e. 4 households in total); and
- recognising the need for flexibility depending on individual circumstances, people should limit their contacts throughout the period.
In noting this advice, Government acknowledged that in assessing how to apply flexibility, households will likely have regard to the re-formation of family households over the Christmas period and those who belong to household support bubbles. In particular, it is recognised there are specific days and dates (25th, 26th and 31st of December) in the calendar which are important social and cultural occasions where families will likely choose to come together in larger household numbers.
The public health advice is that the future trajectory remains uncertain. The three steps everyone can take to help reduce the spread of the virus are:
- Get vaccinated and get your booster when you are called.
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19, get a PCR test, self-isolate until you get your result and then follow the public health advice.
- In every situation, reduce your risk of catching / transmitting COVID-19 over the coming weeks by:
- prioritising close friends and family and being conscious of vulnerable people (including yourself) in your circle;
- meeting outdoors where possible and opening windows and doors to let fresh air in if meeting indoors;
- wearing a mask, keeping your distance and cleaning your hands frequently; and
- using antigen tests appropriately.