Indoor hospitality in Ireland is set to reopen for people with evidence of vaccination or immunity from Covid-19.
The cabinet approved new legislation on Monday so those who are fully vaccinated or have had the virus within the last six months can enter cafes, restaurants, pubs and others licensed venues.
Accompanying minors will be allowed to enter with parents or guardians and social distancing measures will still apply.
It comes following days of talks between the hospitality sector and senior Government officials about the resumption of indoor hospitality.
The legislation is set to be passed by the Dail this week to come into force next week, or by July 26 at the latest.
It will run until October 9, after when any extension must be approved by the Dail and Seanad.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed the decision on Monday evening, but admitted it is “not the ideal way” to reopen indoor hospitality.
“This new law means that people who have evidence of immunity through vaccination or infection in the past nine months will be able to enter indoor hospitality venues,” he said.
“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic largely due to the vaccination programme.
“Last year we tried to live with Covid, and we were unable to do so, but we believe this is now possible as a consequence of the vaccination programme.
“We intend to reopen in a sustainable way.”
We’re moving slowly in steps so that we can get businesses open and get people back to work, and make sure they don’t have to close againLeo Varadkar
Mr Varadkar said he hopes the approach is not seen as “discrimination”, adding it is “entirely a public health measure”.
“Our intention is to move forward slowly and never to have to move backwards, and we’re conscious of what we have seen in other parts of Europe.
“I can’t guarantee that won’t happen here but our objective is that it shouldn’t happen, and that’s why we’re moving slowly in steps so that we can get businesses open and get people back to work, and make sure they don’t have to close again.”
The Restaurants Association of Ireland welcomed the move as a “giant leap towards reopening hospitality businesses safely, viably and sustainably”.
Chief executive Adrian Cummins said: “While we don’t live in perfect Pre Covid world, the announcement will give confidence to a sector we are moving forward in a direction that will give the opportunity to 20,000 hospitality businesses reopen indoors and 180,000 employees return to work
“It’s vital we protect our staff and customers by following public health advice and abide by the guidelines.”
Earlier the Taoiseach said he did not accept England’s approach of allowing Covid to “rip” through the country.
Micheal Martin refused to give a date for when restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve customers indoors, saying only that a plan will be in place for July 19.
He added that the legislation will be in line with public health advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
I don't accept the UK's approach that it rips through. Covid is a nasty virus that can cause a lot of damage to peopleMicheal Martin
“We will do it safely and we will be doing it on a phased basis,” he added.
“Tomorrow cabinet will assess a memorandum in relation to a phased reopening of indoor dining in relation to different measures over time, with the initial phase following close advice from Nphet.
“I appreciate from the hospitality sector they want clarity and a decision as regards the timing to reopen. Legislation is critical to that.
“Government is meeting tomorrow and will make a decision on that but we are working towards a clear timetable both in terms of the formation of the plan and with the industry.
“The whole purpose is to protect people. We need to do it in a safe way.
“One only needs to look at the figures in Holland, in terms of what the Delta variant can do.
“It’s not Government, it’s Covid. It has caused terrible damage to hospitality, to travel and to tourism.
“I don’t accept the UK’s approach that it rips through. Covid is a nasty virus that can cause a lot of damage to people.”
He also said antigen testing for indoor dining will be considered in later phases.
Meanwhile, fully vaccinated people are starting to receive their EU Digital Covid Certificates.
Mr Varadkar said not everyone will receive a certificate straight away due to the scale of the process.
“It’s quite a big operation being led by the Office of Government Procurement, also with the help of the Revenue Commissioners, so I wouldn’t anticipate everyone will get their digital cert today,” Mr Varadkar said. “It might take longer than that.
“Of course, it will only go out to people who are fully vaccinated.
“It’s important to say that people aren’t fully vaccinated until a week or two after their second dose, or two weeks in the case of the Janssen vaccine.”
The Minister for Enterprise also said employers should consider the use of antigen testing for staff.
“One thing I think that publicans could do on a regular basis is provide antigen testing for staff maybe twice a week or once a week, which we know can be very effective.
“It’s different to a one-off test, for example, which perhaps is less effective.”
Monday saw an additional 600 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.
As of 8am, there were 64 people in hospital, with 16 in intensive care.