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Nphet shock Government scramble to develop vaccine IDs after being 'blindsided' by indoor dining advice

At a tense Cabinet meeting, ministers lashed out at Nphet's recommendation.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation from Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation from Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation from Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

THE Government is scrambling to develop a vaccine identification system for indoor dining and drinking after being blindsided by shock advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Cabinet ministers were incensed at being bounced into barring unvaccinated people from eating and drinking indoors for the foreseeable future, while also being asked to develop a new vaccine pass for those who have been vaccinated or have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the last nine months.

At a tense Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, ministers lashed out at Nphet's recommendation, which landed late the previous evening.

Justice Minister Heather Humphreys said the advice amounted to being placed in a room with two doors - behind one was a blazing fire and behind the other were hungry lions.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said Nphet had "thrown a grenade on to their desks" with its call for a vaccine identification system.

Culture Minister Catherine Martin, Education Minister Norma Foley and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris also raised concerns about how vaccine passes would work and the backlash they could cause.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Cabinet he asked Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan what his advice would be if the Government could not develop a vaccine pass for pubs and restaurants and said he was told indoor dining would have to be banned for the "foreseeable future".

The Cabinet agreed to delay the return of indoor dining but did not set a date for when it could resume.

Instead, ministers agreed to develop a plan for a vaccine identification system by July 19, when international travel is also set to return.

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However, after the meeting, they warned there was no certainty a vaccine pass would be in place in three weeks' time.

"We don't even know if this is legal," a minister said.

Another minister said: "The public would accept a few weeks delay but they won't accept this."

Government TDs publicly hit out at the proposals, with minister of state Colm Brophy raising concerns over whether the system could be implemented.

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 Micheal Martin has confirmed that indoor dining will not reopen next week as planned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Micheal Martin has confirmed that indoor dining will not reopen next week as planned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Micheal Martin has confirmed that indoor dining will not reopen next week as planned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Fine Gael's Alan Farrell said Nphet's recommendation is "unworkable, unrealistic and based on hyper pessimistic projections".

Lobby groups for restaurant and pub owners were also infuriated by the latest delay to their reopening and the new demand for them to vet customers.

During a press conference at Government Buildings, the Taoiseach was repeatedly asked for details about how the new system will work, but he insisted it was too early to give any details.

Government sources said one option is to require people to produce their vaccine certificate and personal identification before they enter a pub or restaurant.

There are also discussions about developing a smart phone app that will show if people are vaccinated or diagnosed with Covid-19 in the last nine months which means they have immunity.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said relations with Nphet are working well, but acknowledged there had been a significant shift in policy on vaccine passes.

"Delta has changed that situation and therefore the advice has changed," he said.

Nphet delivered the advice on Monday night as fears grew over the potential impact of the more transmissible Delta variant.

Ministers were expecting Nphet to recommend delaying the return of indoor dining for a number of weeks to allow more people to be vaccinated.

But they were taken aback by Nphet's analysis of the variant and the demand that the Government introduce a "non-reproducible and enforceable system of verification of vaccination or immunity status".

Ministers said they were presented with Armageddon-type scenarios of the impact of the new variant, which included suggestions of more than 680,000 cases and 2,170 deaths between July and September.

Green Party minister of state Ossian Smyth told RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta the Government will be asking an independent body such as the World Health Organisation or the European Centre for Disease Control to review Nphet's data on the Delta variant.

"We will be looking at it again independently on the figures outside of Nphet. We will ask them (an independent authority) to look at the figures independently," he said.

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Ossian Smyth

Ossian Smyth

Ossian Smyth

However, his comments came only hours after the Taoiseach ruled out reviewing Nphet's figures.

"The idea of setting up alternative, different pools of advices and researches, would lead to incoherence in the short term," Mr Martin said.

A Green Party spokesperson later said it was Mr Smyth's "personal" opinion that the figures should be reviewed.

"The Government will continue to consider the issue of how best to proceed over the coming days," he added.

While indoor dining was delayed, the Cabinet did sign off on the gradual return of spectators to outdoor sport and music events.

From next Monday, 200 fans will be allowed to attend matches or concerts in small venues while 500 fans will be permitted in stadiums with a capacity for more than 5,000.

Restrictions on household visits will also be lifted for fully-vaccinated people or those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the last nine months.

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