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As it happened: Taoiseach confirms delay to reopening of indoor hospitality

The reopening of indoor hospitality has been pushed back following advice from NPHET.

Image : Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie
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BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS.

What we thought we knew about July has been well and truly turned on its head.

Cabinet met today to make a decision on indoor dining, which was due to reopen on 5 July but has now been pushed back.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) gave modelling to government members yesterday on the potential spread of the Delta variant if hospitality reopens indoors.

Now, indoor services in pubs and restaurants have been delayed while a system is developed that would allow verification of vaccination or immunity from Covid-19.

Hi folks.

Well, here we are again, waiting together to hear what the next stage of Covid-19 restrictions will look like.

Lauren Boland here, I’ll be with you for the next while as we find out what will or won’t be allowed in the hospitality sector over the coming weeks. Get in touch with your thoughts via Lauren@TheJournal.ie or on Twitter @LaurenAnna_1.

We’re expecting details on indoor dining early this afternoon after a Cabinet meeting – but as you know yourself, these things can stretch on longer than planned, so we’ll see how it goes.

Cabinet arrivals 005 Ministers arrive at Dublin Castle this morning ahead of the Cabinet meeting Source: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

Things are about as clear as mud right now, but what do we know so far?

The provisional plan for July that the government previously announced would have allowed several restrictions to be eased or lifted at the start of the month, including permission for indoor services to return in pubs and restaurants.

Outdoor dining has been open since 7 June (and indoor dining was allowed in hotels and B&Bs for residents from 2 June).

Luckily, we’ve (mostly) had the weather for the ol outdoor dining so far.

Indoor dining in pubs and restaurants was due to follow on 5 July – but since then, the arrival of the Delta variant on the scene has shaken up the playbook.

It’s now likely that the reopening will be pushed back to at least the middle of the month.

It was a late one for the Cabinet’s Covid-19 subcommittee last night, which didn’t emerge from Government Buildings until the wee hours. 

Members met to discuss advice from NPHET – which also convened yesterday – on public health measures and the Delta variant.

The takeaway from last night’s meeting was that indoor dining would be delayed until at least 19 July to give the government time to work out their stance on a NPHET recommendation that only vaccinated people or those who have recovered from Covid-19 could dine indoors safely.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said some of the details from NPHET were new and unexpected.

NPHET’s letter to the Cabinet Covid-19 committee set out some modelling for dealing with the Delta variant, with best, medium and worse case scenarios.

The worst case scenario – deep breath – 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.

It’s been a rough few days (well – a rough year, really) for pubs and restaurants as they’ve waited to hear what their fate will be next month.

Brian Renaghan, a publican in Monaghan, told The Journal yesterday that it’s “soul-destroying” when “you’re after spending a lifetime building up a business and the people who were there before you building it up, for this to happen”.

In Galway, restaurateur Jp McMahon said that “one week in July is worth a whole month in the winter. If we lose two weeks at the start of July, that’s effectively two months takings that we’re going to have to cover in the winter.”

But today’s not only about indoor dining – there’s also a question mark over other activities, particularly for people who aren’t vaccinated, in places like theatres, music venues, bowling alleys and more.

All going to plan (fingers crossed), we’re looking at a 1pm announcement from Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Cabinet’s decision.

Meanwhile, it’s a bit of a scorcher out there, and outdoor dining will likely be in full swing around the country.

OUTDOOR DINING DUBLIN AM4Z8233 Outdoor dining on Capel Street in Dublin last weekend Source: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

One reader has written in to suggest that the government should put practices like rapid testing and localised lockdowns in place to handle hospitality and the Delta variant, as well as closely assessing what has worked in other countries and communicating clearly with the public.

“We need to learn from our mistakes at Christmas but not be paralysed with fear from it,” our reader said.

Wedding receptions can increase to 50 attendees as planned, but indoor hospitality is being delayed.

The Taoiseach has said he knows that businesses will feel “dismay and frustration” at the decision and that additional supports will be provided over the coming weeks.

And there we have it – it was a short speech from the Taoiseach, only around five minutes long.

There was no detail on when pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open indoors.

Here’s the breakdown on the government’s website now – indoor services won’t be going ahead as planned.

A system will be developed for verifying whether someone has been vaccinated or has immunity from Covid-19, and the goverment will “devise an implementation plan by 19 July”.

Gov Restrictions 290621 Source: Department of An Taoiseach

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is speaking now on RTÉ Radio One’s News at One.

He says that hospitality staff won’t need to be vaccinated in order to return to work indoors when pubs and restaurants do reopen.

“My hope is that none of the scenarios we’ve seen come to pass,” Donnelly says, referencing the modelling put forward by NPHET on the potential impact of the Delta variant.

Younger people should hopefully be vaccinated “several weeks” earlier than planned by expanding the rollout of AstraZeneca and Janssen.

“Our job is to minimise the risks and keep our country on the right track,” Eamon Ryan says over at the post-announcement briefing.

The Taoiseach says that the modelling from NPHET was “quite stark” in terms of the transmissibility of Delta and its potential impact on the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations.

The letter that Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan sent to Stephen Donnelly yesterday with NPHET’s modelling and advice is available to view here.

“The other measures [aside from outdoor activities] which were due to be eased on the 5th July which, by their nature are high risk activities which will involve significant levels of social mixing in indoor environments, should only be permitted for those who have been fully protected by vaccination or who have had Covid-19 infection in the previous nine months,” NPHET recommended.

“The planned easing of these measures should only proceed once a robust, non-reproducible and enforceable system of verification of vaccination or immunity status can be put in place to support this. If this is not deemed feasible, the Government should consider pausing further easing of these measures until such a system can be instituted.”

“We only ever planned to use vaccination passes for international travel. It was government policy not to use those for domestic services,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says at the briefing.

He says it’s a big, difficult change that Cabinet members aren’t particularly happy about.

“But the alternative is to keep these facilities and services closed until we reach herd immunity, and we can’t say when that is.”

Post Cabinet briefing Source: Virgin Media News

The Taoiseach was asked if it’s fair on young people that they may be working in a pub or restaurant indoors while they’re unvaccinated, but that they couldn’t eat or drink where they work before they receive a vaccine.

He said that it’s “never been a condition” of working that someone would need a vaccine and that requiring vaccines (or immunity) among customers would help to protect employees.

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers has tweeted that she believes the government has made the “wrong decision”.

“We are splitting the people and leaving younger people behind, the very cohort that have shouldered the greatest burden to protect others,” she said.

And they’re off – the post-announcement briefing has ended.

Eamon Ryan actually left early a while ago to head to Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil – there’ll be no time for sitting out in the sun anyway.

Briefing ends Source: RTÉ

Reactions are starting to roll in from opposition parties and pubs and restaurants that are impacted by the change in plans – let’s take a nose around and have a look at what they’re saying.

Retail Excellence, a representative group for retailers, says that it’s “extremely unhelpful” that there’s been no new date set for the indoor reopening.

Board member Fergal Doyle describes the delay as a “hammer-blow for the hospitality industry in Ireland” that will have “significant ramifications for business owners and staff around the country”.

“We understand that this is a tough decision for the Government to have to make, but this does not lessen the impact on business owners who are fighting for their survival after a terrible year and it is extremely unhelpful that we do not have a timeframe for a reopening plan,” Doyle said.

The Social Democrats are calling the new plan unworkable and unenforceable.

“It is completely unworkable, totally unenforceable and raises serious legal and ethical issues,” says health spokesperson Róisín Shorthall.

“Is the government seriously suggesting it should stand over a system predicated on unvaccinated younger people serving older vaccinated people in the hospitality sector – and those younger people being unable to dine in those establishments themselves?” she asked.

“We are now in a situation in which more than 40pc of adults are fully vaccinated and more than 60pc of people have received a first vaccine dose. At what point, in the vaccination schedule, is Nphet suggesting it will be safe to reopen indoor dining?”

Breaking from the pack, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne has just put out a statement about the Leaving Cert in 2022.

“What is important is that there is clarity as soon as possible and certainly before the students return in September for their Leaving Cert that they know what they are going to face for that academic year,” Byrne said.

No doubt we’ll hear more talk about the Leaving Cert later in the summer and autumn as results are published and new sixth years start classes, but the spotlight for today is certainly shining on pubs and restaurants more than on schools.

leaving-certificate-exams-begin Source: PA

The question of unvaccinated young people working in hospitality is dominating a lot of the political response to today’s announcement.

Kerry County Councillor Jackie Healy Rae said that it is “incredible to think that the government feel that it will be safe for those of a certain age to enjoy indoor hospitality while more likely than not the person who will be serving them will be a young person who is not vaccinated”.

He wants to see the government reverse today’s decision.

Speaking in the Dáil, Labour leader Alan Kelly said the plan is “not practical, it’s unenforceable and it’s discriminatory”.

He said the plan will “divide the people of this country”.

“You’re saying to young people it’s illegal for you to go down the road for a pint if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t go for a meal in a restaurant, but it’s not illegal because of European law to go up to Northern Ireland, or get on a flight to Spain, and go for as many meals or as many drinks as you want.”

“We’re essentially saying to young people of Ireland, your summer will consist of sitting at home and watching Love Island because that’s what we think of you,” Kelly said.

As a young person, I can confirm my plans for later this evening do indeed involve watching Love Island.

Also in the Dáil (remember his early departure from the briefing?), Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said government wants to sit down with stakeholders, unions and industry representatives about the new plans.

He said the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines being permitted for anyone aged 18 or older was “an important element” of the decisions made.

Cabinet arrivals 003 Eamon Ryan arriving at Dublin Castle this morning ahead of the Cabinet meeting Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

With the announcement announced and the responses, er, responded, that’s about it for today.

Here’s a round-up of some of the key developments:

Thanks for following along with our updates, and look it, we’ll probably have another one of these days soon enough.

Lauren here signing off – enjoy the sun.

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