PUBS and restaurants in Ireland will close at 8pm from Monday amid fears over the spread of the Omicron mutation.
Government officials rejected recommendations from health chiefs to shut boozers at 5pm – instead giving customers three more hours to eat and drink.
In a cabinet meeting today, ministers agreed to the early shutdown in a bid to control surging cases connected to the variant.
Hotels will be exempt from the new closing time, although the loophole will apply to overnight guests only.
It's also understood wedding guest numbers could be limited to 100.
Meanwhile, politicians have given the green light to a change in 'close contact' rules.
Anyone without a booster dose who is in contact with a confirmed case must isolate for 10 days.
Those who have received a third dose will be asked to quarantine for five days and take three antigen tests.
The changes are expected to be in place until late January.
BOOZERS SHUT EARLY
The news will likely alarm hospitality chiefs already concerned about the pressure on their business.
Some bosses say they have had "no option" but to close during a "double whammy" of sick staff and customers staying away over concerns their festive plans could be disrupted.
And normally-busy streets have fallen quiet as office workers stay at home and shoppers head online to buy gifts for loved ones.
Workers at Evelyn's Table in London's Soho put its closure down to "members of our core team having to isolate", MailOnline reports.
Barrafina Drury Lane in Covent Garden said "staff members isolating makes the services non-viable".
Meanwhile, Darjeeling Express near Leicester Square reported a "double whammy of staff sickness combined with huge cancellations of groups".
And Blend Kitchen in Sheffield said it had seen a 50 per cent fall in bookings.
Thousands of Brits are likely to be forced to isolate at home on December 25 as the mutation continues its rapid spread.
MILLIONS COULD QUARANTINE
But as numbers grow, millions could be quarantined in the weeks to come, potentially causing huge problems for businesses around the nation.
At the weekend, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi predicted 1m infections by the end of December.
As close contacts of anyone with Omicron also have to isolate for ten days, even if they're not infected, business chiefs fear the knock-on impact will be enormous.
Omicron's R-rate could be as high as five – although health chiefs hope this means it will soon peak.
Today, another record number of cases has been reported, with an astonishing 93,000 Brits newly-infected.
Confirmed cases of the new strain have jumped by a third.
There is, however, some good news.
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Data proves the booster vaccine is the best protection against both infection and severe disease.
A new study has shown that a top-up dose will protect against severe disease, even if to a lower efficacy than against previous strains.
The Sun is urging readers to sign up to the Jabs Army campaign to make the rollout as smooth and fast as possible.
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