Ireland is introducing new COVID-19 restrictions including a midnight closing time for pubs, nightclubs and restaurants as the country battles a fourth wave of infections.
The measures, which come into effect from Friday, will also see household contacts of those with COVID required to restrict their movements for five days, even if they have been fully vaccinated.
Until now, vaccinated contacts with no symptoms were not obliged to restrict their movements.
Such contacts will also have to take three antigen tests during that period. Unlike the UK, antigen tests are not free in Ireland, typically costing around €8 each.
So-called COVID passes (proof of vaccination), which are already required for indoor hospitality, will now also be needed to go to a cinema or theatre. Gyms and hair salons will continue to be exempt from this requirement.
The public will also be urged to work from home again unless it is absolutely necessary for them to go to the office or workplace.
The midnight curfew is being seen as a major blow to the hospitality sector in the run-up to the Christmas party season.
The industry had only just returned to some semblance of normality, with a previous curfew of 11.30pm removed at the end of October.
Reacting to the move, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), which represents around 4,000 Irish publicans, said: “The news that restricted trading hours are set to be reintroduced is a hugely disappointing development for the many late-night pubs and night clubs many of whom will now be forced to shut just three weeks after reopening.”
The body’s chief executive, Padraig Cribben, said: “The decision to introduce a new closing time of midnight will effectively close many late-night pubs and nightclubs.
“It will also seriously restrict other outlets at the most critical time of the year.”
Publicans are now calling for discontinued state financial supports for affected businesses to be reintroduced.
The government has been forced to take action after infection rates soared in recent weeks.
Ireland now has the highest incidence rate in western Europe, and the 12th highest in the world, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.
The 14-day incidence of the disease currently stands at 959 per 100,000 people.
This is despite having one of the most vaccinated populations, with around 93% of all adults fully vaccinated.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has said that modelling showed the current wave should peak in late December, and has urged people to get their booster vaccines “in a timely manner”.
There are concerns among some in government that further restrictions may need to be introduced during the winter period.