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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar peaking to reporters this morning. Rónán Duffy/The Journal
delta decisions

Varadkar says a delay to indoor hospitality is 'not inevitable'

NPHET is meeting today on whether to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality.

A DELAY IN the reopening of indoor hospitality is “not inevitable”, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings he said he could not pre-empt any decision by Cabinet, but said government will make a decision tomorrow. 

Businesses had made a “reasonable” request to have the decision expedited as they need certainty for stock, he said. 

Varadkar said he can “see the case” for delay 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.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet today to consider its advice to the Government on whether or not to further ease Covid-19 restrictions from next Monday.

A meeting of party leaders is expected tonight, with the possibility of the Cabinet Covid subcommittee meeting also.

Cabinet will take a decision on the issue tomorrow, amid concerns about the rising levels of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is more transmissible.

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

Business and hospitality groups have called for clarity, amid growing speculation that the reopening of indoor hospitality could be delayed.

Varadkar told reporters today that the government will ultimately look at “what would any delay potentially achieve” such as would it mean more people will be fully vaccinated, and not so much what impact it would have on case numbers, but what impact it would have in terms of hospitalisations and deaths. 

He said the great success of vaccine program has been that it has weakened the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

The data on what the projections are will also be published, he added.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Varadkar said it would be “very hard” for government to go against NPHET advice. “It would be unlikely,” he added. 

Last week The Journal reported that government sources believed that NPHET advice would accepted by Cabinet.

He said if it were an indefinite delay on indoor dining, it might make sense to make an exception for those who have been vaccinated.

Varadkar added that as a society we have never debated what an acceptable level of risk i, stating that maybe we should have done it before now.

“There will always be new variants and we need to factor that into our thinking,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme this morning, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said he expected a decision about re-opening to happen after Cabinet meets tomorrow.

“I think it would be important that we make that decision tomorrow,” he said.

“I’ve heard very clearly a very reasonable request from people working in the hospitality sector across the weekend, where they’ve been saying ‘at the very least, can you give us clarity and certainty as early as possible in the week?’

“The Taoiseach made it clear yesterday that he wants that to happen, and I would expect the Cabinet now to be in a position to make that decision tomorrow.”

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) will also meet to consider the use of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in younger age cohorts.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that allowing the vaccine surpluses to be used for younger people will be an “important factor” in the government’s decision to reopen hospitality. 

Martin said he “doesn’t want to interfere or be seen to interfere with the deliberations of NIAC”. However, he said that the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has written to NIAC on the use of surplus vaccines for younger age groups.

“A substantial number of vaccines are available that cannot be used on the current age framework and guidance that has been given,” he said

Given that the Delta variant is here it is an issue that merits re-examination.

Varadkar said today that NIAC’s decision “will be significant”.

He said being able to use all of the vaccines in stock will speed up the rollout of the programme.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme today, higher education minister Simon Harris said he doesn’t want to preempt the two meetings, but the government wants to provide businesses with as much certainty as possible.

Discussing the possibility of the reopening being delayed until 19 July, when it would coincide with the return of international travel, Minister Harris said it was a judgement call but the vaccination programme would be a key factor.

“Every week, roughly speaking, buys you a period of time to allow 300,000, or thereabouts, more vaccines to be administered. The question for government, for our public health experts, and for us as a collective is to decide what is the right balance between vaccine, and reopening,” he said. 

With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Christina Finn

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