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Reopening of indoor hospitality set to be delayed for a number of weeks

Indoor dining was intended to recommence from next Monday, 5 July. This date looks set to be delayed until 19 July.

Image: Shutterstock/David Tadevosian

Updated Jun 29th 2021, 6:00 AM

THE REOPENING OF indoor hospitality is set to be delayed for a number of weeks, likely until at least 19 July, following a Cabinet Covid Committee this evening.

The Cabinet sub-committee began meeting after 9.30pm tonight to discuss the reopening, following recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), who met earlier this afternoon.

The Cabinet Covid Committee meeting concluded at around 1.20am.

Following the meeting, it looks like indoor dining will be delayed a number of weeks, likely until the anticipated 19 July date, when international travel is set to resume.

However, the question of whether to allow fully vaccinated people to dine indoors was also discussed, though no conclusion was come to. It’s understood that it may be allowed, but would need to be worked out with the industry – and logistics could be “very difficult”.

Both of these will be among the topics discussed at the full Cabinet meeting, which will take place at 8.30am.

NPHET is understood to have recommended that indoor dining could only resume for those that are vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19, a move that has been described as “very divisive” by some senior sources.

“We weren’t expecting this,” said senior government sources, who described it as a “bolt out of the blue”.

Government are now set to work through the detail of what has been advised, and determine whether what was recommended is even logistically workable. The aim is to bring forward a plan by mid-July.

Senior sources could not confirm that indoor dining would resume on 19 July, but said there would be a plan to allow it ready by that date. 

They said a lot can happen in three weeks, and by then there will be a better idea of the impact of the Delta variant from looking to Great Britain.

Speaking on his way out of the meeting, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan acknowledged that the advice from NPHET was “unexpected”. He said government would work with the hospitality sector but confirmed a delay to reopening indoors was on the cards. 

“I think we will probably have to delay just to get the plan right and get the systems in place,” he said.

A lot of modelling was presented by the public health experts, and a lot of it was unexpected, said Ryan. 

NPHET is concerned “even with level of vaccinations” that the Delta variant may still cause problems “right through the summer”, said the minister.

He said worst case scenarios were presented to the three party leaders but that they were just that – worst case scenarios. 

“Modelling is not a certainty,” said Ryan, who added that certain assumptions are made when generating these models. He said it is now time to pause for thought and assess the options.

While he said allowing vaccinated people to dine indoors “makes sense”, it is more about the question of people who are not vaccinated. 

“We have to think of the whole population,” he said.

Under the original reopening plan, the resumption of indoor dining in pubs and restaurants was set to be allowed from 5 July. 

Senior sources said that NPHET has no issue with fully vaccinated people meeting up indoors, either in a business or hospitality, but that are not willing to say it is safe for unvaccinated people, “not for months”.

They said none of the health experts are willing to say what percentage we need to get to to achieve herd immunity, in terms of vaccinations.

Earlier, sources told The Journal that the advice given by NPHET to the three party leaders today was fairly ‘grim’, warning about the impact of increasing Delta variant rates in the country.

Speaking on his way into the meeting, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that the initial analysis by NPHET on the potential impact of the Delta variant in the case of hospitalisations “has to be taken very seriously”.

“It gives us an additional impetus to do everything we can to get everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said he is very happy with the advice from NIAC today regarding vaccinations.

Some believe the advice to be given tonight might be overly pessimistic given the approach in UK and Singapore.

NPHET is understood to have pointed to the UK, where Delta has been dominant for weeks and hospitalisations increased by up 10%.

However, it is understood that Government do not want to be seen to downplay the NPHET advice, particularly given the impact of Christmas reopening on Covid rates earlier this year.

There had been growing speculation in recent weeks that the reopening could be delayed due to concerns about the more transmissible Delta variant. 

Business and hospitality groups had called for clarity, and pushed for an early announcement of the plan, which resulted in NPHET meeting earlier this week than expected.

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Other reopening measures set out for 5 July are allowances for visitors from up to three other households to visit your home and up to 50 attendees permitted at wedding receptions.

It’s expected that there will be good news for people set to get married in the coming weeks, with numbers for weddings indeed set to be increased to 50 guests.

Organised indoor events could be permitted a maximum of 50 attendees at most venues and a maximum of 100 at larger venues, with strict public health measures in place.

For outdoor events, most venues would be restricted to 200 attendees and a maximum of 500 for outdoor venues with a minimum capacity of 5,000. 

Indoor training, exercise and dance activities would also be permitted to recommence in pods of up to six. 

These measures are all subject to a final decision from the Cabinet. 

Not going backwards

Earlier today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he could “see the case” for delaying the reopening of indoor dining to allow more people to get fully vaccinated, but added that a short delay only reducing the number of cases by 10% is “not an awful lot”. 

“The one thing though that I can say to everyone, citizens employers, employees, what we want to avoid is having to go backwards,” he said.

He also said that he could not see government fully accepting NPHET’s advice on the matter. Varadkar said modelling data of the projections would be published.

Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of the Irish SME Association, said doubt around the reopening “will cause thousands of workers to reassess their plans to come off the PUP payment and return to work”.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said at the weekend that the decision from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) on whether AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccine surpluses can be used for younger people will be an “important factor” in the government’s reopening decisions. 

Last week, the European Union’s disease control agency warned that any significant easing of public health measures this summer could lead to a new surge of Covid-19 this autumn.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) urged countries to keep their vaccination programmes moving quickly.

The ECDC said the Delta variant, first identified in India, could account for 90% of new cases in Europe in the coming months. 

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