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NPHET recommendation on indoor dining was 'very divisive', say politicians

Cabinet met today to consider whether indoor dining could be reopened on 5 July.

Image: Shutterstock/P_Brauers

Updated Jun 29th 2021, 12:40 PM

ADVICE FROM THE National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) that indoor dining should only be reopened for vaccinated people has been heavily criticised by hospitality industry groups and described as “very divisive” by senior political sources.

A cabinet meeting was held this morning where ministers discussed advice from NPHET to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality for several weeks. The move was confirmed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin in a speech this afternoon.

The Taoiseach said that the recommendation to limit indoor hospitality to vaccinated people would be examined with stakeholders as part of the formation of a plan for indoor reopening. 

NPHET’s clear advice based on the modelling it has done is that, given the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, the safest way to now proceed with return to indoor hospitality is to limit access to those who have been fully vaccinated, or have recovered from Covid infection.

NPHET provided modelling to the government on the potential spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 should hospitality reopen. The modelling provided best, medium and worse case scenarios. 

The worst case scenario would potentially be 700,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths between July and September. 

A better scenario was 81,000 cases and 165 deaths. NPHET emphasised that the medium to best case scenarios were more likely.

On his way into Cabinet this morning, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the modelling presented by NPHET last night was “worrying”.

“It was always going to be a step by step, stage, process, there wasn’t one day from when everything was going to reopen, to this was always going to be staged approach,” he said.

Ryan himself expressed concern about the “difficulties” in allowing indoor dining for vaccinated persons only. He said this was “one of the recommendations” from NPHET but that “we’ll have to consider it and look at how we manage it”. 

Cabinet arrivals 001 Eamon Ryan arriving at Dublin Castle ahead of this morning's Cabinet meeting. Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

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

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said the plan to open indoor hospitality to vaccinated people only is “flawed, unworkable, discriminatory and currently illegal”.

“Restaurant, Pub and Café Owners will now be placed in the unenviable, complex and difficult position of allowing vaccinated customers enter indoors and restricting non vaccinated customers to outdoor dining,” Cummins said.

“Such a practice of refusing access to goods and services in currently illegal under equality acts,” he added.

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The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said it “rejects” the proposal to treat vaccinated and unvaccinated persons differently, with CEO Donall O’Keeffe describing the suggestion as “utterly ridiculous”. 

“NPHET has lost the run of themselves and possibly the entire country this time. It is completely bizarre that they would introduce such a system this late and basically try to panic the entire country into accepting a process that would create a two tier society,” he said. 

Asked this morning about the reaction from the RAI and others, Ryan said that the government will have to listen to representatives from the sector. 

“I think what we’ll have to do is sit down with the Restaurants Association of Ireland and other interests. There’s a whole variety of different stakeholders interests, sporting organisations and others who might be affected. And we will work out solutions with them. It is really important that all those businesses, lots of small family businesses survive and thrive coming out of this.”

With reporting by Christina Finn and Rónán Duffy

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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