Expert advice to speed up the vaccine rollout would not have changed the decision to pause the reopening of indoor hospitality, the Taoiseach has said.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee changed their advice to Government – to allow under-40s to avail of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs – in light of the Delta variant.
Micheal Martin confirmed the advice was not included in Nphet modelling that led the to the decision on hospitality, but said in “no shape or form” would it have changed Cabinet’s decision.
In no shape or form would it have changed the decisionTaoiseach Micheal Martin
He said: “The Niac advice, and this should be obvious to all, is a response to Delta. It was not central to our decision last Tuesday.
“It’s because of the fact that Delta is spreading so dramatically in the UK, and potentially is the most transmissible we’ve had so far.”
He added: “I think the idea of trying to connect them and say, well if it wasn’t it would lead to a different decision, that’s not the case whatsoever.
“In no shape or form would it have changed the decision.”
Mr Martin said he was “surprised by some of the reports” that ministers were told Niac advice had been included in the modelling.
But he refused to comment on what minsters had been told, citing Cabinet confidentiality.
A working group is to be established with stakeholders from the hospitality sector to discuss how the safe return of indoor service in pubs and restaurants can be facilitated.
Nphet has called for the Government to delay the return of indoor pubs and restaurants from July 5, until an “enforceable” system to prove vaccination or immunity status can be put in place.
The Taoiseach said on Thursday that Government will keep an “open mind” on proposals.
He said: “We said we’d go into these meetings with the working group with an open mind.
“Our minds are not closed in terms of how we do this, and the various mechanisms or pillars that we could use to facilitate the safe reopening of hospitality.”
It is not clear if the system will be linked to the EU’s digital Coivd cert for international travel, due to take force on July 19.
“We’re not conflating the two just yet. We’re focused immediately on the travel, getting that sorted, and that’s on track” the Taoiseach said.
Speaking at the launch of the National Marine Planning Framework in Dun Laoghaire, the Taoiseach said an update timeline for the vaccine rollout, based on the new Niac advice, will be available in the coming days.
At an HSE briefing on Thursday, chief executive Paul Reid said the Health Minister had been briefed on the updated plan.
He said: “Just in the last hour or so, we have briefed the minister on the revised proposed plan, which we’ve set out to him.
“We have to pay due respect to the minister who now will want to brief his colleagues in Government.
“We do expect further communications on that, but you will appreciate that today, we have to facilitate the minister to brief some of his colleagues, and work through some of the detail with his department as well.
“But suffice to say, it will be a very ambitious plan and will continue to utilise all available channels for us and fully embrace all of the recommendations from Niac.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked Professor Mary Horgan to head a group to progress use of rapid antigen testing.
Prof Horgan was on the Ferguson group and was approached some weeks ago, and a formal announcement outlining the group’s remit is expected in the coming days.
Mr Donnelly has made it clear he supports the wider use of the tests and so does the Government.
They are not a replacement for PCR but an additional tool, he said.
The group will provide expert advice to facilitate the rollout of tests in various sectors.
Mr Reid said that last week that more than 351,000 vaccine doses were administered.
About 2.54 million first doses have been given, representing 67% of the population, while 45% are fully vaccinated, having received both doses.
There are currently 44 people in hospitals with Covid-19, with 14 of those in intensive care units.