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No plans to delay 5 July reopening as Cabinet discusses Delta variant

Sources say there is no need for some of the comments around the variant to “scare” or panic people.

Cabinet sources say other regions where the Delta variant is dominant have not closed bars or restaurants.
Cabinet sources say other regions where the Delta variant is dominant have not closed bars or restaurants.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Jun 22nd 2021, 5:57 PM

THERE ARE NO plans to delay the 5 July easing of restrictions, which will include indoor dining, according to Cabinet sources.

The Cabinet was briefed this morning about the Delta variant after the Department of Public Health in the Midlands announced last night that it is investigating the cluster of suspected cases of the variant which is becoming more prevalent in Ireland – making up 20% of last week’s case numbers. 

The discussion around the variant has been described as “calm” at Cabinet today, with no indication that next week’s decision to sign off on the reopening of indoor services in bars and restaurants in July is likely to be impacted.

There also appears to be no appetite from public health experts to deviate from the plan to reopen, while sources also said there is no need the public to be “scared” or “panic” when they hear comments from NPHET on the variant.

While case numbers will be watched, it is the hospitalisation and ICU numbers that will be monitored closely.

A government spokesperson confirmed this evening that hospitalisations and ICU numbers will be a “key metric” considered. 

It is understood that Cabinet discussed what was experienced in the UK, where there was an early spike in hospital numbers, only for them to fall off. 

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Delta variant “will become dominant in Ireland” but said it is yet to be determined whether this will result in an increase in hospitalisations.

“There is definitely reason for concern – not reason for panic at this stage,” Varadkar said.

“We’re still on track to ease restrictions further on the 5th of July but we won’t be able to make the final decision on that until next Thursday, until we’ve seen more data and we have the most up-to-date advice from NPHET.”

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue told reporters this afternoon that government will take on board all public health advice as part of next reopening decision – but said the plan to reopen is still on track.

Some ministers are understood to be sounding a cautious note, with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly understood to have expressed concern over the number of Delta variant cases in Derry, and the potential to spread into Donegal. 

However, those in government circles state that the variant has been dominant in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Britain for a number of weeks now, and highlighted that there was no closure of restaurants or bars in those regions.

A government spokesperson told reporters that Cabinet will meet next week to decide on the next phase of the reopening, stating that “nothing is set in stone”. 

The Delta variant is a concern, not only in Ireland but across the EU, he said.

The government will be closely monitoring what’s happening in other countries, with the spokesperson stating that whether cases translate into hospitalisations in other regions will be monitored.

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He indicated that in previous waves, there was a link in an increase in case numbers and an increase in hospital numbers, but the vaccination programme appears to have “broken” that link, somewhat.

It is expected NPHET will give a detailed briefing on the latest situation next week, most likely on Wednesday, with Cabinet set to meet and sign off on the next phase of the reopening next Thursday.

Last night, chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said he was “concerned” by the growth of the Delta variant here.

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