Ireland orders bars, restaurants to close at 8 p.m. to curb Omicron

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People apply hand sanitiser before outdoor dining while out for Christmas shopping, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Dublin, Ireland, December 17, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

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DUBLIN, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The Irish government on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron virus.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the measures, which will run for six weeks from Sunday, were necessary because the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was likely to bring a level of infections "far in excess of anything that we have seen to date."

"There needs to be a very strong and immediate reduction in contacts between people in order to prevent Omicron overwhelming us," Martin said in a televised address.

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Ireland's COVID-19 case numbers have eased in recent days, but the government has said it expects a surge of infections as Omicron takes over.

Omicron represented 35% of cases reported in Ireland on Friday, up from 14% on Tuesday, health officials said. Some parts of neighbouring Britain have reported Omicron case numbers doubling every two days.

90% of Irish adults have been vaccinated and around one-third of those have also received a booster dose.

Friday's measures were introduced despite vocal opposition by the hospitality sector and a number of lawmakers in the parties of the ruling coalition, who said the move would encourage less-safe gatherings in private homes.

Under the new rules, indoor events should be limited to 50% of venue capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lower. Outdoor events should be 50% capacity with no more than 5,000 people.

All people arriving into the country will be required to have either an antigen or PCR COVID-19 test, depending on whether they are vaccinated or not.

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Reporting by Conor Humphries;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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