Why are we still here? I’ve had it up to here. Omicron. There is huge concern that this new strain will spread across society and spread at a vicious rate. The timing couldn’t be worse. It is a highly transmissible strain that comes at a time when we all get confused most. Restrictions to prevent this spread are seen as a necessary evil.

But why?
In fact, you’ve heard it all before. Basically it all comes back to the hospitals. We have a health service that is unable to withstand waves of infection that could overwhelm the capacity of intensive care. We have too few intensive care beds and insufficient resources to cope with a scenario that experts say could be worse than the wave that hit us after Christmas last year.

Do they really think it will be that bad?
Yes. Now admittedly we weren’t testing Omicron a few weeks ago because we didn’t know it at the time, but since they started testing it’s gone from 11pc of cases at the start of last week. to over a third of all cases yesterday. It has already ravaged parts of Europe.

So what are the new restrictions?
Basically anything you enjoy doing with other people is likely to be limited in some way. Restaurants, bars and more must close at 8 p.m. Indeed, no indoor event can take place after 8 p.m., with the exception of a wedding reception.

Oh good? So can we still get married?
Yes, but the capacity is limited to 100.

What about midnight mass for Christmas?
That’s good too, but that’s it then.

Why are weddings and mass acceptable?
I think it’s a concession. How often do people go to mass after 8 p.m.? With weddings, many people had already made their reservations and with so many weddings canceled already in the past two years, it would be difficult to tell a couple again that they can’t be with their friends and family for mark the occasion.

Is that it then?
No, there is more. Any indoor event before 8 p.m. is limited to a capacity of 50 pc, unless the usual capacity is enormous. Then it is capped at 1,000.

But can I still go shopping for Christmas?
It is possible, but it is difficult to see what will happen to tickets purchased before now, as outdoor events also have capacity limits of 50pc. This is different for large venues like stadiums, where the capacity is now capped at 5,000.

How about spending time with your family?
The rules for home gatherings have not changed. Four households can mix inside at the same time.

What if someone came home for Christmas?
Again, there is a household capacity limit, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be enforced for Christmas tours. If parents are coming from abroad, there are other things to know. All people arriving in Ireland from overseas will need to undergo an antigen or PCR test. They are also advised to perform antigen tests daily for a period of five consecutive days.

Why haven’t they closed the schools?
Do you remember “schools are safe”? Well, it was believed that if schools were closed during the days leading up to Christmas – when parents expected to be able to send them to school – it could create problems around daycare and inconvenience working parents. There is also a strong belief that being in school is safe, as children operate in pods and there are public health measures in place there that are not in place at home.

Should vaccines definitely help us?
Well they are, but not enough people have been boosted yet, so there is a big push to increase that quickly. The reality is, however, that the new variant is already here and spreading, so the needles need to be in the arms as soon as possible.

So they’re protecting against Omicron?
Presumably. Studies show that a booster is between 70 and 75 pc effective in protecting against the new strain.

So someone without a booster has less than 75pc of protection?
Yes. It decreases over time, but having two doses is still considered a strong defense against getting very sick if you get the virus.

And what should I do if I get sick on Christmas and think it’s Covid?
The same as you would if you had Covid at any other time. Stay at home, book a PCR test, and limit your movements.


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