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Taoiseach: NIAC advice included in modelling wouldn't have affected pause to hospitality

The Taoiseach told reporters he will not talk about what was discussed at Cabinet last Tuesday.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

NIAC’S CHANGE IN vaccine policy being included in NPHET’s modelling would “in no shape or form would it have changed the decision to pause” the reopening of indoor dining, according to the Taoiseach.

On Monday, NIAC decided to allow for both the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines to be made available for all age groups.

However, yesterday The Journal reported that the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan had confirmed to opposition parties that the modelling provided to government did not account for NIAC’s latest vaccine policy change. 

Speaking to reporters this morning in Dun Laoghaire, Micheál Martin said 
the impact of NIAC decision wasn’t incorporated into modelling but insisted it would not have changed the outcome of the Cabinet decision to pause the reopening of indoor dining.

Politicians at the briefing yesterday said such an omission of data would make a “huge” difference to the scenarios presented to the government. 

In addition, it emerged the Taoiseach categorically told Cabinet that the modelling reflected the changes from NIAC. 

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin is understood to have specifically put the question to the Taoiseach at Tuesday’s meeting, where she stressed how important it would be that the modelling reflected the changes.

The Taoiseach is understood to have reassured her and other Cabinet colleagues that the changes were included in the models.

Senior sources have now raised serious concerns about the Cabinet making a decision “based on wrong information”. Some ministers have said privately that they felt misled by the omission.

Martin said today that he was “surprised” by some of the reports in the media, stating that the CMO’s letter and presentation was clear.

He would not be drawn on what was said at Cabinet, stating that he is bound by Cabinet confidentiality. 

The government took a tough decision and the right decision on pausing indoor hospitality, he said. 

“I do think it is the right decision,” said Martin.

Junior Minister Ossian Smyth who is responsible for Digital Covid Cert roll out said it is possible the domestic cert could be the same cert that is used for international travel, however, the Taoiseach said, right now, the government is not conflating the two. 

Work is ongoing in getting the International Digital Green Cert completed, he said. Smyth said they are “on track” to getting that ready for 19 July. The minister added that while it may be technically possible to include the two in one cert or app, anything that is brought in for hospitality has to work for the sector.

The Taoiseach confirmed that the CMO first raised the idea of the distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated people when it comes to hospitality on Sunday night, but he added that the formal advice was not given until Monday night. 

“We now have to engage with the industry,” he said, stating that as is always the the public health experts advise, while it is up to government to operationalise it.

“No one likes getting this kind of advice,” he added. 

“It can jar sometimes,” he said.

On whether antigen testing could be brought in for the reopening of hospitality, the Taoiseach said yesterday that other measures such as antigen testing and ventilation will be looked at by government.

Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe without indoor dining. In countries that do have a pass system in place for hospitality, vaccination is not the only entry requirement. 

A negative Covid test (such as an antigen test), proof of vaccination or past infection are the three measures used in such countries. 

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Government has accepted a report that recommends its rollout in businesses, schools and by the public. 

It is understood that government is set to defy NPHET advice to use such testing as just one option to get pubs and restaurants open fully.

Those in government circles have said that protection measures, such as antigen testing, work in other countries, saying “being prescriptive is these situations does not work in the real world”.

A second source said including antigen testing being one of the ways people can enter into a pub or restaurant would not go down well with Holohan, but that government can deviate from NPHET advice.

They pointed out that government is deviating from NPHET advice when it comes to international travel and it can do so again on antigen testing.  

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