Taoiseach Micheál Martin has announced new measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 ahead of the Christmas period.
In his address, Mr Martin said his message is a difficult one but Government has received stark advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team that requires the reintroduction of some restrictions.
"It is difficult because even though Ireland has done very well as a country and you have done everything that has been asked of you, we have received some very stark advice from our Chief Medical Officer and our Public Health Experts that requires the reintroduction of a number of restrictions," he said.
The surge had stabilised but, just as the country was getting a handle on it, news of the Omicron variant emerged, he said.
"We will do whatever we reasonably can to stop this new variant from circulating in the country, but we have already confirmed one case and all of our experience to date shows that while restrictions on travel are useful to delay the entry of new variants, it is impossible to stop them," he said during his address.
The Taoiseach added: "This is not about going back to the days of lockdowns. It's about adjusting the guidelines to meet the threat we face today and protecting the progress achieved to date."
The measures announced today will be in place from 7 December until 9 January.
Restrictions impacting the hospitality sector include the return of table service only in bars, as well as a maximum of six people to a table, with at least a metre between each table.
The booking of multiple tables for restaurants, bars and other hospitality settings will no longer be permitted.
Nightclubs, which only reopened their doors in October, are set to close until 9 January.
Events, including gigs, concerts and sporting events, can only reach 50% capacity. Closing time remains at midnight.
Face masks must be worn at all times except when eating or drinking.
The Digital Covid Certificate will be required for gyms, leisure centres and hotel bars and restaurants.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin says from 7 December to 9 January nightclubs will close and all bars and restaurants must revert to the situation in place before 22 October. | Read more: https://t.co/CYAOUCjlbx pic.twitter.com/xxFrHWMQpd— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 3, 2021
With regard to household visits, the advice was to keep a maximum of four households when meeting indoors at any one time. However, he said the need for flexibility would be acknowledged.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment is set to be reinstated for all those who will lose jobs as a result of these new restrictions.
Taoiseach Miceál Martin says "the challenge we face is that while we have stabilised the surge of cases in the country, the daily cases are still very high." | Read more: https://t.co/CYAOUCjlbx pic.twitter.com/JAWZCOS2MB— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 3, 2021
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan later said anyone arriving into the State from Sunday will be required to present either an antigen test or PCR test which does not indicate the presence of Covid-19.
He said people who are fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required to take an antigen test while those who are unvaccinated will need a PCR test.
Mr Ryan said there was a delay to allow airports and others to set the system up.
The Green Party leader added that weddings and church services can go ahead as planned.
Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said an extra €25m has been secured to support live entertainment, following this evening's announcement.
'A body blow' to hospitality sector - Varadkar
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the country is "facing a rather peculiar situation" because the Government is tightening restrictions at a time when "the epidemiological picture is actually improving".
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says for the first time since the pandemic began Government are tightening restrictions at a time when the epidemiological picture is improving but adds the restrictions are based on public health advice. | More: https://t.co/CYAOUCjlbx pic.twitter.com/Gvy6IKatFL— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 3, 2021
Speaking at a press conference after the Taoiseach's announcement, Mr Varadkar said the restrictions are going to be hard to understand for many people, adding: "for us as politicians, they're also hard to explain".
He added that he realises that tonight's news will come as a "body blow" to those in the hospitality, entertainment and art sectors.
"It's certainly not the Christmas that you expected and I know for a lot of people in these sectors."
The Tánaiste said that he wanted those people to know that "nobody thinks that you're in any way to blame for this pandemic or this virus".
Those sectors are being asked "once again to take one for the team," he said.
Responding to the announcement, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the "real story today is the absolute and abject failure of the Government to plan and to manage".
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, she said that 48 hours ago, the Government was cutting business supports and it has now reintroduced really serious restrictions that will have a devastating impact on businesses, workers and incomes.
Ms McDonald said she supports measures to keep people safe, but she does not support the approach of Government.
She added that people and businesses will continue to pay a very high price, unless there is a dramatic and fundamental change in how the Government does its business.
Additional reporting: Mary Regan