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What new Covid restrictions are coming in today?

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In response to climbing infections and pressure on the health service, the Government this week announced further changes to Covid-19 restrictions in tandem with new public health advice. Many of the changes took effect from midnight on Thursday.

What does it mean for you?

Hospitality

Bars, restaurants and nightclubs have a new closing time of midnight from Thursday, November 18th, with all customers required to be out of the premises by that time each night.

Late-night hospitality was previously required to close by 11.30pm, before the rules were relaxed last month, allowing nightclubs to reopen for the first time since the early days of Covid-19.

Although some nightclubs may opt to open earlier than normal, others in the sector will see the midnight curfew as an effective closure order .

Hotel bars and restaurants will also be covered by the midnight curfew, with an exception for guests staying in the hotel – as had previously been the case with restrictions on hospitality.

The midnight closing time will apply to functions booked in hotels, such as office work parties and weddings.

Christmas parties

There was no specific guidance or new regulations around office Christmas parties.

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin described recent decisions he had seen by large companies to cancel upcoming parties as “sensible”.

Similarly, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said cancelling office parties, or other social plans and get-togethers over the next number of weeks would be “responsible decisions”. People had a responsibility to reduce their social contacts, he said.

Work from home

People have been advised to return or stay working from home “unless it is necessary” to attend the workplace in person. Many employers had been arranging for employees to return to offices on a phased basis since late September.

Theatres and cinemas

The requirement to show a Covid pass, as proof of vaccination or recent recovery, has been extended to cinemas and theatres.

Previously, the passes were required for indoor hospitality, as well as for live music events, nightclubs and international travel.

Some cinemas and theatres had already required customers to show Covid certs, but the latest change will make the requirement mandatory.

There were discussions about whether the Covid pass would be extended to hairdressers and gyms, but they were not included in the latest announcement.

Playdates

While there is no recommendation around numbers attending events such as playdates or children’s birthday parties, Minister for Education Norma Foley said such activities should now be minimised.

“We need to be very vigilant and very restrictive in terms of our social engagements and that applies to families,” she said.

Close contacts

People who are close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case in their household are now advised to restrict their movements for five days, even if vaccinated.

Beforehand, those who were fully vaccinated were not required to self-isolate or restrict their movements when listed as close contacts.

Pandemic Unemployment Payment

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) scheme, set up to support people who lost their jobs due to Covid-19, will not be reopened, the Government said this week.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said there were plenty of vacancies elsewhere in the hospitality and retail sector for nightclub staff who may lose their jobs. Nightclub owners could avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to continue to pay staff, she said.

Antigen tests

A plan to subsidise antigen tests to encourage wider use is due in the coming days, and this is expected to see the costs of the rapid tests brought down from around €8 to €3 per test.

The Health Service Executive currently posts packs of five free antigen tests to people listed as close contacts who do not have symptoms.

Antigen tests will be made available in primary schools from November 29th onwards.

The Minister for Education said the Health Service Executive will provide antigen tests to parents or guardians of all children in a class pod if one person in the pod tests positive.

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External investigation into Department ‘champagne party’ needed – Minister

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Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has called for an external investigation into a “champagne party” held by staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs staff in June 2020.

The gathering, which appeared to breach Covid-19 guidance in place at the time, was “inexcusable” and Minister Simon Coveney and his department have further questions to answer, the Fianna Fáil TD told Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One.

“Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency … it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland’s election onto the UN Security Council, and the image was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

Speaking on the same programme, Labour TD Duncan Smith said people were angered at the event because June 2020 was a bleak time for most people in Ireland. He said the public had seen other incidents where politicians and others were accused of breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

“These are the elites of society … what has really hurt people is that it really got to the ‘we are all in this together’ philosophy.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane agreed there needed to be an independent review of the matter, adding that Mr Coveney needed to come before an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil to gave a “frank and full account” of what happened.

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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