Northern Ireland news

Strict Covid-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings to be reintroduced in the Republic from Tuesday

Taoiseach Micheal Martin announced limits are being put on indoor gatherings will be in place until January 9. Picture by Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP

STRICT Covid-19 restrictions are to be reintroduced in the Republic from Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin announced last night.

Following a briefing from health experts that cases could surge to 15,000 a day after Christmas if the new Omicron variant becomes dominant, limits are being put on indoor gatherings until January 9.

Nightclubs will close and strict social distancing will be required in all bars and restaurants, including hotels, with only table service permitted.

Tables must be one metre apart with a maximum of six adults per table and no multiple table bookings and masks required when diners are not at their table.

Seating will return to entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events which have been reduced to 50 per cent maximum capacity, with face masks to be worn when not eating and drinking.

The Covid pass will be required for gyms, leisure centres, hotel bars and restaurants

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be reinstated for all those who lose jobs as a results of latest restrictions.

National Public Health Emergency Team advised visits to private homes be kept to a maximum of three other households (a total of four) at one time, but Mr Martin said it acknowledged a need for flexibility.

He said "the protection of public health is the government's primary responsibility and we will do whatever is needed to discharge that duty".

Forty deaths linked to Covid-19 have been recorded in the latest weekly update from Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

The Department of Health reported a further four deaths on Friday, with 326 Covid-positive patients in hospital - 30 in intensive care.

There were another 1,908 notified cases.

Infection levels in Northern Ireland has hit one in 45 people, up from one in 50 the previous week and slightly below the record high of one in 40 in mid-August, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.

It is not linking the latest rise to the arrival of the new variant.

There was some confusion ahead of the latest `Big Jab Weekend' after the department's booking platform refused to allow people aged 50 and over to access a booster appointment.

The north's Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison had encouraged people to take advantage of the vaccination blitz effort at around 50 high street pharmacies.

According to the public information campaign, those eligible are people aged 50 and over who had their second doses at least three months ago and 40-49-year-olds who had their second doses at least six months ago.

Community pharmacies are also providing first and second doses to anyone over 18.

Some pharmacies will be offering walk-in clinics, but others require bookings.

However, the department admitted its booking platform "is presently being updated but will not recognise the recently introduced three month rule for the over fifties until Tuesday".

"Over the big weekend however all those over 50 whose who have had a second dose at least three months ago will be able to attend Trust or pharmacist walk in centres which have been set up across Northern Ireland," a spokesman said.

"For those who are over 40 but under 50 the six month rule continues to apply for the moment but there will be a phased reduction in the weeks ahead."

The list of pharmacies participating in the Big Jab Weekend is at https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/big-jab-weekend-pharmacy-list

Health trust hubs are also offering first and second doses to the 12 and over age group.

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Northern Ireland news