Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that all pubs and restaurants are to close by 3pm on Christmas Eve, amid signs that the COVID 19 infection rate will spike again over the coming weeks.

The Taoiseach said that Ireland will return to Level 5 restrictions with some adjustments on 24th December. Additional restrictions will come into play before the New Year.

As well as pubs and restaurants, hairdressers and barbers will close on Christmas Eve. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed that takeaway only services will be allowed to continue to operate. Outdoor seating will not be permitted.

Household visits will be limited to one other household after 26th December, down from the current limit of two households. From 1st January, no household visits of any kind will be permitted except for essential reasons such as caring for children or elderly people as part of a support bubble.

Intercounty travel will be restricted from 27th December. People who have already left their county can remain where they are until their previously scheduled return date. The travel ban from Britain has been extended until 31st December.

Hotels are allowed to remain open for essential purposes only, with the exception of guest who have already made a booking and are due to check in up to and including 26th December.

In spite of NPHET recommendations, the government is keeping non-essential retail and gyms for individual training open, however retailers are being asked to defer winter and New Year’s sales events. Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open as they have throughout the pandemic.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that people should operate under the basis that these restrictions will remain in place for the first two months of 2021. He also cautioned that this may not be the last Level 5 lockdown of the pandemic.

“A lot of people will be receiving today’s news with a heavy heart. I know that I bring it to you with one. Each and every one of us need to remember that, while it may not seem like it, what we have done to date and what we are doing now doing now is saving lives. Because of the sacrifices that so many are making, because of the restrictions we are accepting in our lives, many many people are alive today who would otherwise not be,” Martin said.

The new lockdown comes as fears over a new, more virulent strain of COVID 19 that has been found in the UK. The government is proceeding on the assumption that the new variant is already in the country.

Speaking on Twitter, Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said the Government “Must step up to the plate with a meaningful aid package”. It is understood that financial supports will be provided for affected sectors, the details of which are to be released.

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