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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Julien Behal Photography/ Taoiseach Michael Martin addressing the nation at Government Buildings today.
# Setback
Taoiseach: 'Safest way' to return to indoor hospitality is to limit access to those vaccinated or recovered from Covid
The reopening was planned for 5 July but is to be delayed for at least two weeks.

THE PLANNED REOPENING of indoor hospitality is to be delayed until at least 19 July when the government will propose a plan for how the reopening will take place. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has not provided a date for the reopening, saying that his priority was to ensure that “when a sector reopens it stays open”. 

Indoor hospitality had been scheduled to return next Monday 5 July but, following a “stark” assessment from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) about the potential spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19, this has now been put back. 

“Last night, we were advised by public health officials in very stark terms that proceeding exactly as planned on 5 July carries a real risk of greatly increased spread of the virus, increased hospital admissions illness and death,” he said. 

NPHET also said in its advice to government that indoor dining could initially return for fully vaccinated persons only before a wider reopening at a later point. 

This suggestion was discussed at a Cabinet meeting this morning and concerns were raised about how this could be implemented. 

Restaurant and pub groups earlier described this suggestion as “unworkable” and “ridiculous”. 

The Taoiseach said this afternoon that this suggestion 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.

“Over the course of the coming weeks, government will work, urgently, with the relevant sectors to agree a practical and workable approach,” he said. 

Other features of the 5 July reopening plan are to go ahead on schedule, this includes the increase in the number of people who can attend a wedding reception to 50 people. 

Vaccine passes

On the issue of vaccination passes, the Tanaiste said that the Delta variant had changed Government policy on the use of them. 

“We only ever planned to use vaccination passes for international travel. It was government policy not to use those for domestic services,” Varadkar said at the press conference following the announcement, 

He described it as 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.”

The Tánaiste said: “We’ve decided to err on the side of caution. If 1,000 people get the Delta variant, three would die of it, but the problem is if we had 500,000 getting this virus we could find ourselves in the middle of another Covid tragedy.”

The Taoiseach said he could not go into specifics about how such a system might work, stating that they will engage with the sector. 

He did not give clarity about what sort of pass would be required, though he did state that the government wasn’t considering the possibility of fines for premises that did not follow the proposed rules. 

“That hasn’t entered our consideration at all… we want to engage with the sector… we don’t want, in this context, to bring in a punitive regime,” he said.

He said he would no get into the “specifics” of what such a green pass framework or plan might look like.

Martin said the “sensible thing” to do now is to engage with the sectors and work out a practical and sensible way forward.

He added that Ireland will look to the lessons from other regions, but he said he was not in a position today to go into great detail to what the “final response” from government will be until it speaks to businesses.

When asked about people who choose not to avail of a vaccine, or those who cannot, Martin said: “We’re going to have to examine all the implications of the advice we’re receiving.”

When put to him that he spoke strongly against such a domestic cert two months ago when addressing his parliamentary party, the Taoiseach said: ”Government took decision not to have policy on domestic services on whether a person is vaccinated but there are many twists and turns on this. We have to work our way through the advice.”

Stark modelling

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach said 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. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan sent a letter to Stephen Donnelly yesterday with NPHET’s modelling and advice – it 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.”

At a press conference following the announcement, the Taoiseach said the government wants to make sure that a sector is able to remain open after it is allowed to reopen.

 He added that the government will work urgently to come up with a practical and workable approach regarding the NPHET advice that only vaccinated people can attend indoor activities. 

Martin added that he doesn’t envisage the government engaging outside scrutiny of NPHET’s modelling. He added that modelling is not an exact science. 

The government also announced that the planned closure of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to new entrants has been pushed back a week from midnight tomorrow to midnight on 7 July.

- Additional reporting by Christina Finn, Lauren Boland, Aoife Barry and Céimin Burke

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