The HSE is reminding people that, from next weekend on, anyone identified as close contact will have to self-isolate for Christmas.
Restaurants and gastropubs reopen their doors for the first time in over six weeks today as Level Five restrictions are eased.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said people should do everything they can to reduce their contacts.
“There will be a lot of individual responsibility to manage it,” he said.
“What I would say to people is, it's not always because you can do something that you should do it so I would be encouraging people to really keep the household contacts down to a minimum.”
"Three phases of risk"
He noted that there are “three phases of risk” through the month.
“Firstly, this weekend, as people go to restaurants, it is about travel to the restaurant, it is about leaving the restaurant, it is about the goodbyes,” he said.
“Then, in the following two weeks I would say the worst thing that could happen to anybody is you become a close contact or you become infected with the virus and then your Christmas is ruined and your family’s Christmas is ruined.
“It is important that this lands for people because, for the next two weeks, if you are a close contact and you haven’t reduced your contacts and you become a close contact, it does mean that firstly, you will be tested, but secondly, at a minimum you will be restricting your movements for at least two weeks.”
The third phase is Christmas week itself, when families will be gathering, sometimes for the first time in months.
Up to six diners are permitted per table in pubs and restaurants, with sittings limited to 105 minutes plus 15 minutes for turnaround.
Sittings can be longer if tables are more than two metres apart.
Pubs must serve a ‘substantial meal’ that has been prepared on-site.
Meanwhile people are still not permitted to visit each other’s homes and gatherings in outdoor settings are limited to people from two households.
Mr Reid said officials were trying to balance a number of concerns when writing up the Christmas restrictions.
“We need to protect our health services going into winter – but equally we do need to think about people’s mental health, we do need a functioning economy to fund the health service and we do need a functioning society to protect people,” he said.
“We look at it in the round. We are concerned as we head into January which is our high peak of winter season. So, the next four weeks for us are a high-risk period for people and high-risk period for our health service.
“Think about it in those three phases over Christmas. Particularly over the Christmas period where families are mixing together; young people are back from college, there is inter-generational mixing – it is a very high-risk period.”