Ireland will impose a midnight curfew on bars, restaurants and nightclubs from Thursday, its prime minister Micheál Martin has announced, as the country tackles a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases.
Martin said the country’s rise in infections is “a cause of deep concern” as he unveiled a swathe of new measures aimed at “reducing socialization across the board.”
They include a return to guidance that people work from home and an expansion of where a vaccination pass is required – people must now show them at theaters and cinemas.
Ireland has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates, with 89.1% of people over the age of 12 having been immunized, but its booster program has only been available to those over 60, healthcare workers and at-risk people. The government is making plans to offer third doses to those in the 50s and people with underlying health conditions, Martin said.
The prime minister called for a “collective effort” to keep Ireland’s economy open, and pointed towards the “picture emerging across Europe,” where cases are generally rising and causing governments to bring in fresh restrictions.
Ireland recorded its highest case number since January last Friday, when 5,483 new infections were reported. Deaths remain at a far lower rate than during its January peak, but are inching upwards.
The county also recorded its second highest rate of hospital admission in all of 2021 this week, according to Martin. One of the capital Dublin’s main hospitals, the Mater Hospital, moved to ICU surge capacity on Monday and is now ventilating patients outside intensive care, according to state broadcaster RTÉ.
But the new rules were met with disappointment across the hospitality sector – particularly among the owners of nightclubs, which were only allowed to re-open last month after being shut since March 2020.
The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said in a statement posted that the move was “a very disappointing measure for the many late-night pubs and nightclubs many of whom will be forced to shut just three weeks after reopening.”
CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), Adrian Cummins, said that given the country’s high vaccination rate, the “reintroduction of restrictions on hospitality shows that living with COVID is not viable for our country.”
The measures which were agreed by the Cabinet earlier on Tuesday represent “an appropriate response to the situation we find ourselves in, ” Martin said. “And I know that no one wants to go back to a world of widespread restrictions,” he added.
Ireland now joins a rising number of EU countries to re-introduce restrictions ahead of the winter. Covid-19 infections are rising across the bloc, particularly in central and eastern parts of the region.
On Monday, a lockdown for unvaccinated people came into effect in Austria, while Germany’s new government is pushing to introduce harsh new measures on people who have not been innoculated.