The Government is bringing forward a decision on whether to delay the next planned round of Covid-19 relaxations in Ireland, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheal Martin said Cabinet would now deliberate on the scheduled July 5 reopening of indoor hospitality in Ireland early this week.
A decision on the return to indoor dining and drinking had initially been expected later in the week, however, ministers have faced intensifying calls from bar and restaurant owners to urgently provide clarity.
They have made the point that they need to tell their staff whether or not they will be working on July 5.
It will be a decision that will be taken early in the weekMicheal Martin
Mr Martin said there were a number of moving parts to the decision, including the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Ireland.
He said whether the green light will be given to administering hundreds of thousands of surplus AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to younger age cohorts in Ireland would also be an “important factor”.
In an interview with RTE, Mr Martin said a “steady” approach to the reopening of society had worked to date and he wanted to make sure that there would be “no going back” to forced closures.
“It will be a decision that will be taken early in the week,” said Mr Martin.
Mr Martin did not rule out the prospect of the reopening proceeding but with more robust infection control measures in place.
He said “various scenarios” could emerge in how hospitality could operate in the weeks ahead.
AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen jabs are currently not given to younger adults in Ireland as a precautionary measure in response to rare incidences of blood clotting linked to the jabs.
Mr Martin said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) was considering whether to alter that advice in the face of the Delta variant’s emergence.
He said Niac’s advice would influence the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) deliberations on whether to recommend delaying the July 5 relaxations.
“Given the fact that the Delta variant is here, it’s an issue that merits re-examination, it is being re-examined, and Nphet is anxious that that examination would feed into its deliberations,” he said.
Mr Martin said the Government would also need to examine modelling in respect of the potential impact of the Delta variant.
He said he would also look to how the variant has spread in other countries, such as the UK.
“The calculus is different now, the risk is different now than Christmas time for example,” he said.
“We have 2.5 million people vaccinated now, fully vaccinated, with close to four million overall vaccine doses administered – between first and second doses (and) the older age cohorts have been protected.
“So all of that has to feed into the decisions that we take in respect to this.
“And I understand just how difficult and devastating a year it has been for hospitality in particular – we get that, we understand that, and we also understand the need to give early notice.”
Mr Martin added: “We’re going to engage with public health authorities, cabinet colleagues, the other party leaders and make decisions that are sensible.
“We’re very conscious in terms of the impact that the entire pandemic has had on the hospitality sector. I’m always conscious also from the other side of the coin that retail people would have said to me, ‘look, when you open this time, we want to stay open’ and the same applies to hospitality.
“The worst thing that can happen is you open somebody up and then you start closing again.”
International travel for non-essential purposes is set to be permitted across the EU from July 19 as a consequence of the introduction of the bloc’s Covid passport.
Mr Martin indicated that Ireland would continue to keep aligned with the rest of Europe on that date.
“We’re part of the European framework and we’ve given a commitment in relation to the 19th, so I think we will continue to operate the European Digital Certificate from the 19th onwards,” he said.
Many people within the 60-69 age cohort in Ireland have faced extended waits for their second vaccine jabs.
Mr Martin said action was being taken to address the situation, with the intention to have all second does administered by July 19.
Asked about the Government timeline for reducing public spending on Covid-19 supports, Mr Martin said Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe, and Public Expenditure Minister, Michael McGrath, would be making a summer economic statement.
“There will be a clear overall fiscal framework adopted by Government in respect of the deficit and over time bring that down,” he added.
Mr Martin said the shorter term continuation of current coronavirus policies was important, warning of the potential to “cut off the recovery as it’s happening”.
He said sectors of the economy would be “weaned off” subsidies “over time”.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed 340 more positive cases of Covid-19 in Ireland on Sunday.
The latest figures also show there are 47 people in hospital with the virus, including 15 in intensive care.