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Bars and restaurants in Ireland will be required to close early in the week leading up to Christmas, usually their busiest time of the year, as governments around Europe battle a new wave of Covid infections driven by the Omicron variant.

Restaurants, bars and public venues must reduce their hours and close at 8 p.m., beginning on Monday. Prime Minister Micheál Martin said that cases of the Omicron variant in Ireland were doubling every few days and that, for Ireland, the worst of the pandemic could be ahead.

“I’m apprehensive in terms of what this might mean in terms of the sheer scale of infection,” Mr. Martin told RTE, Ireland’s state broadcaster. “Which is why we can’t take risks — the great unknown being, how severe is this in terms of requiring hospitalizations and I.C.U.s, and just damaging people in terms of health?”

On Saturday, health authorities announced 7,333 new cases — double the number of the day before. Health authorities said that 35 percent of positive swab tests taken last Wednesday indicated the Omicron variant, suggesting that it would become the dominant variant in Ireland within days.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The new restrictions have been sharply criticized by trade bodies for bar owners and restaurateurs, and also by some lawmakers representing parties in Mr. Martin’s coalition government.

The Licensed Vintners Association, representing bar operators in the Dublin area, said that many of its members, already weakened by previous lockdowns, saw the new measures as “closure by camouflage.”

The Restaurants Association of Ireland called for the reintroduction of emergency payments to businesses that were forced to close completely in previous lockdowns. The government said it is considering such measures this week.

For Mr. Martin and his deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, the difficult choice between business needs and public health echoes their painful experience this time last year, when they gave in to calls to ease tight restrictions on socializing and entertainment so that Ireland could enjoy a “meaningful Christmas.”

Emergency restrictions were reintroduced on Christmas Eve last year, followed by a January lockdown, which further damaged the retail economy.

Jane Suiter, a politics and communications professor at Dublin City University, said that government policy is to contain overall levels of infection while keeping schools open. Ireland’s entertainment businesses, famously convivial at this time of year, seem to be an “easy target.”

“It’s hardest on people aged 18 to 30, who’ve already given so much,” she said. “My life isn’t really impacted at all, but my students’ lives are very deeply impacted.”

In neighboring Britain, the government is leaving open the possibility of imposing another round of restrictions, the country’s health secretary said on Sunday.

Scientific advisers have warned lawmakers that more action is needed, because the country’s surge is threatening to overwhelm its health system, even after the government announced a long-resisted coronavirus contingency plan earlier this month, urging people to work from home if possible and extending a face-mask mandate.

Over the weekend, Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, declared a “major incident” — an emergency status that frees up resources — in the capital, and speculation has been swirling over the possibility of a short-term nationwide lockdown. Some European countries have tightened restrictions on travelers from Britain, with Germany allowing only citizens and residents to travel there, with some exceptions, and France allowing travel, including for French nationals, only for essential reasons.



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