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'Only meet those you trust' as experts ask for pubs to close again after Christmas

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Dr Tony Holohan yesterday urged the public to be extra careful over the Christmas period

Dr Tony Holohan yesterday urged the public to be extra careful over the Christmas period

Colin Keegan

Dr Tony Holohan yesterday urged the public to be extra careful over the Christmas period

Christmas and New Year festivities will be curtailed as pubs, restaurants and home visits face an earlier clampdown due to alarm over rising levels of Covid-19.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has asked 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.

Lockdown

The recommendations are made against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases since the last lockdown ended on December 1. Taoiseach Micheál Martin revealed last night the Cabinet will meet on Tuesday to consider the recommendations.

The country is already infused with the pre-Christmas spirit and it has led to a rush of socialising, with the average number of contacts of people who get the virus up to an average of 3.4, increasing the chance of passing it on.

People will today be able to travel outside their county and also have visitors to their homes from up to two other households over Christmas.

Professor Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said the R number - which needs to be under 1 - is at least 1.1 or 1.3 if not higher, showing how fast the virus is spreading.

"We are concerned that Ireland is now in a phase of rapid growth, which if allowed to continue will result in 700-1,200 cases a day by the second week of January."

Asked if a January lockdown was a possibility if levels of the virus escalate, Tony Holohan said nothing is ever ruled in or out and Nphet will meet again on Wednesday.

Prof Nolan warned 1,200 level of daily cases - which landed the country in the last six week lockdown - was a pessimistic forecast but not inevitable if advice was heeded.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who contacted Dr Holohan after yesterday's Nphet meeting, said the Cabinet will "seriously consider" a clampdown on pubs, restaurants and household visits on New Years Eve.

"The rise in the second wave was largely in younger people so it did not have the same effect on hospitalisations and ICUs," he said, adding that the healthcare system was in good shape this winter and he wanted to keep it that way.

But last night Labour leader Alan Kelly said the public cannot be expected to wait for five days to hear from the Government about potential additional Covid restrictions that may come into force before the new year.

There were three additional Covid-19 related deaths yesterday and 484 newly diagnosed cases of the virus.

The number of patients with the virus in hospital is at 200 and 31 are in intensive care, with 30 additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.

The new cases yesterday included 150 in Dublin, 45 in Wexford, 40 in Cork, 32 in Donegal and 29 in Limerick, with the remaining 188 cases spread across 20 other counties.

Outbreaks

Dr Holohan would not reveal the Nphet recommendations.

He said: "We are now getting reports of outbreaks in social settings including workplace settings, funerals, Christmas parties and weddings."

He said that the consequences of not limiting contacts will be "exponential growth in January".

Prof Martin Cormican, HSE lead on infection control, advised to only meet people "you trust with your life" indoors this Christmas.

The big fear is that many people have picked up the virus already and are unaware of it but will pass it on to vulnerable people over Christmas celebrations.


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