The Taoiseach has confirmed that the return of indoor dining will be delayed due to concerns over the Delta variant of COVID.
Addressing the nation from Leinster House this afternoon, Micheál Martin said NPHET last night warned the Government in “very stark terms” that moving forward with reopening as planned carried a “real risk of greatly increased spread of the virus, hospital admissions, illness and death.”
He said NPHET’s clear advice was that the safest way to reopen indoor dining was to “limit access to those who have been fully vaccinated or 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.
“The simple truth is we are in a race between the variant and vaccines and we want to make that the vaccine wins.”
— MerrionStreet.ie #StaySafe #HoldFirm (@merrionstreet) June 29, 2021
Earlier the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said it was “astounded and angered” at the delay.
It warned that the plan to restrict indoor dining to vaccinated people is “flawed, unworkable, discriminatory and currently illegal.”
Cabinet signed off on the plans after NPHET claimed that, in a worst-case scenario, reopening could lead to more than 600,000 and over 2,000 deaths over the next three months.
Even under the most optimistic projection, the group claimed the country would see more than 80,000 cases and more than 150 deaths.
Here are the various scenarios NPHET presented the Government with for the spread of COVID over the next few months pic.twitter.com/uPgfxCaiXD
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) June 29, 2021
Mr Martin said he did not want to lose any of the progress Ireland has made against the virus and insisted the delay represented a “sensible, safe and balanced way forward.”
“Our tourism and hospitality sectors have carried a disproportionate burden throughout this pandemic and I know this delay will be greeted with dismay and frustration by some,” he said.
“In recognition of the circumstances, we will provide supports in the coming weeks.
“But I also know that this sector understands better than anyone the greater harm we would risk to their businesses if we undermined the tremendous progress we have made together.
“The best way to ensure and protect sustained social and economic progress is to continue to keep the virus under control and so far, we have been doing that.”
The Government has said it will have a system for verifying vaccination and immunity by July 19th in order to allow a limited reopening of indoor dining.
In terms of the other changes announced this afternoon, the return of indoor training, group exercise and dance classes will also not proceed as planned next week.
However, from July 5th, the number of people permitted to attend a wedding is increasing to 50, while the numbers at outdoor organised events will increase to 200.
Stadiums or venues with a capacity of over 5,000 can welcome a 500-strong crowd.
There will no longer be any limit on the number of fully vaccinated or immune people who can meet up in each other’s houses.
Plans for international travel are still set to go ahead as planned from July 19th, although that won’t be given the final green light until closer to the time.
Mr Martin insisted the new vaccine advice put forward by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) will result in many more people getting vaccinated sooner.
NIAX has said the interval between AstraZeneca (AZ) dose can be shortened to four weeks and the AZ and Johns & Johnson (J&J) vaccines can be offered to anyone over the age of 18.
Meanwhile, the Government has confirmed an extension to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
New entrants will be able to apply up until July 7th rather than June 30th as previously planned.