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Reopening latest Indoor dining to resume in early July with groups of six and no €9 meals, says Leo Varadkar

We don’t anticipate that there will be a limit on how long you can stay, but we haven’t made a decision on that yet,” the Tánaiste said.

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has revealed what a night in a pub or restaurant could look like of indoor dining reopens as planned in early July.

Addressing an Oireachtas committee today, he said the plan was for indoor dining in Ireland to resume in early July, even though “case numbers seem to be rising again.”

It would be up to six people at a table, but with no requirement to buy a substantial meal as during previous stop-start reopenings of hospitality.

“We don’t anticipate that there will be a limit on how long you can stay, but we haven’t made a decision on that yet,” the Tánaiste said.

A lack of the kind of restrictions seen last summer would allow for “more practical” hospitality, both for establishments and customers, he said.

There will also be no €9 meal requirement or time limit on tables when outdoor hospitality resumes next month, the Tanaiste said.

He said only table service will be allowed when outdoor dining and drinking returns on June 7 and there will no longer be any restriction on the number of households permitted to sit at one table.

He said: "Seated only. A metre or a metre and a half between tables. No more than six at a table. They can come from any number of households. There will be no rule of 15. If you have the space, you have the space.

"There won't be a requirement to buy a substantial meal - that'll be gone. And we don't anticipate there will be a limit on the time you can stay so it will be a lot more practical than what existed before, but that's not finalised yet."

Mr Varadkar told the committee the Government "still expects" indoor dining to resume in July, adding that he hoped the disparity between indoor dining at hotels and other restaurants would only be "a couple of weeks".

The Tanaiste told TDs and senators in his opening that that he hoped Ireland can return to "close to normality" by late summer.

He said: "I'm very hopeful that we can return to something close to normality by late summer.

"It has been an extremely long road for everyone - for workers, businesses, friends and family - but I think our patience will have been worth it. "

The Fine Gael leader described the state's vaccination programme as "picking up momentum", administering about 270,000 vaccines per week.

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"Nearly 40% of our adult population has had at least one dose now and we hope to have the vast majority of our adult population at least once by the end of June and fully by the end of September," he added.

But he said the Indian variant of the Covid virus was now a concern in the UK, “and we have to keep a close eye on that.”

Asked about the decision by Aer Lingus to close its Shannon crew base to reduce costs, Mr Varadkar described the move by the airline as "extremely unwelcome".

He admitted it was down to the Government's restrictions but said he does not regret the decision to impose strict travel rules.

"The closure of the cabin crew base in Shannon wasn't expected," he said.

"It is down to the pandemic and to the fact that people just aren't travelling.

"And it is also down to the restrictions the Government imposed."

Mr Varadkar added: "In the real world planes can be moved out of Ireland very easily to places like Manchester and that is one of the consequences of the very strict travel restrictions in Ireland.

"I do not regret doing them by the way. We have one of the lowest death rates per million population in Europe - only Finland and Denmark have seen fewer deaths per millions than Ireland has, and some of that is down to our very strict travel rules and the fact that we're an island, but it does have consequences."

The issue of international travel — inward and outbound — will be discussed and decided by Government next week, the Tánaiste also told the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee.

Mr Varadkar said the Cabinet would have to consider any moves on aviation in the context of a possible re-seeding of the virus in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar also suggested that there may come a time when Covid tests — whether antigen or PCR — are no longer needed for international travel. This could be in a situation where air travellers are fully vaccinated, he told the committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

He commented: “We all know that there's different views on in terms of the antigen testing for international travel.

“Nphet and the CMO [Chief Medical Officer] don’t like it. But the Government’s chief scientific officer, Professor Ferguson, is a big fan.

“The Government isn’t ruling it out (the use of antigen testing by passengers), but for now it's PCR testing for international travel.”

Mr Varadkar said there were advantages and disadvantages for antigen testing instead of PCR.

“The obvious advantage is that they're cheaper and quicker, and will pick up people who are in their infectious stage of the virus, where they are shedding virus and are transmissible.

“On the downside, it misses a lot. There are a lot of positives and negatives missed, and can give false reassurance as well.”

But he added: “I would hope though, with our making so much progress with the vaccines, that maybe we won't need tests at all.

“Perhaps we'll get to the point where we can say that being fully vaccinated is enough, and not require people to have any form of tests, and I think that's where I'd like to be.

“But we'll have to figure that out between now and next week, when the government agrees its proposals on international travel.”

The Tanaiste also said the Government expects to be in a position to publish the National Economic Recovery Plan in the next two weeks and that it will outline "targeted assistance for sectors which will continue to be most adversely affected by the pandemic".

"It will outline the next steps for the emergency pandemic interventions, including the PUP and EWSS, reaffirming the Government's commitment to avoid a cliff-edge," he said, adding that at the same time "they cannot continue indefinitely".

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