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diner delay Indoor dining delayed until July 19 while vaccine cert system is developed

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Micheál Martin, Leo Vardakar and Eamon Ryan

Micheál Martin, Leo Vardakar and Eamon Ryan

The vaccine roll-out for the over-60s will be fast-tracked

The vaccine roll-out for the over-60s will be fast-tracked

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Micheál Martin, Leo Vardakar and Eamon Ryan

The reopening of indoor dining is expected to be delayed until July 19 while a system to allow vaccinated people or those who have been infected with Covid-19 in the last nine months to dine inside is developed.

A number of vaccination certificate options are being considered by ministers as anger grows among restaurant owners over a further delay in reopening.

One proposal would see people asked to produce their vaccine certificate and another form of ID to eat or drink inside.

There are also discussions about developing a smartphone app which could be used to show proof of being vaccinated or being diagnosed with Covid in the last nine months.

Ministers will also consider whether the Government should just issue advice to unvaccinated people urging them not to dine indoors.

Separately, the Cabinet is also expected to sign off on plans to allow spectators to attend outdoor events.

Up to 200 people will be allowed to attend sports or music events in smaller venues while 500 fans will be permitted to attend matches or gigs in stadiums with a capacity for more than 5,000 spectators.

Ministers will also discuss easing restrictions on household visits for fully vaccinated people.

A final decision on international travel will not be taken until next week’s Cabinet meeting.

However, the biggest decision facing ministers is around resuming indoor dining.

The decision to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants indoors follows advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which warned against allowing indoor dining due to the threat of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Ministers who attended last night's Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 meeting were shocked by what was described as "Armageddon” scenarios presented by Nphet on the spread of the Delta variant.

Nphet did not give a date for when indoor dining should resume but said it should be delayed for a number of weeks.

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The public health team also suggested fully vaccinated people could be allowed to dine indoors while those who have not received their jabs would have to stay outdoors.

Ministers discussed how to introduce a system which would allow vaccinated people to dine inside.

Ahead of Cabinet one minister said there “will be war” over the decision to introduce a vaccine certificate system for pubs and restaurants.

Another minister described Nphet’s advice on the Delta variant as “unbelievable”

Meanwhile, thousands of Covid cases have been predicted every day in August if the Delta variant manages to get a stronghold in Ireland.

The suggestion of indoor dining for fully vaccinated has also prompted the Restaurant Association of Ireland to call for an immediate meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The Nphet letter sets out a worse case scenario where Ireland could experience 700,000 new Covid cases by the end of September and more than 2,000 deaths.

At the other end of the scale, the figure for cases could be as low as 81,000 cases and 165 deaths.

There is a warning that hospitals could come under huge strain as we head towards the winter months.

Fatalities and hospitalisations will approach, but not meet, the chaos and harrowing caseload seen in January, ministers have been warned. “They are predicting an increase in deaths and hospitalisations,” said a source. “It is very alarming.”

The planned reopening for next Monday “will not stand”, a senior source said after the Cabinet was provided with gloomy modelling data on the Delta variant.

Another said: “Any kind of delay is now possible, maybe longer than two weeks, because of the predictions.”

Nphet projections show a worst-case scenario of the variant infecting “thousands of people per day” during August, according to sources.

That is despite planning for advanced and aggressive countermeasures, including a rush to fully vaccinate those aged 60-69 and the rolling out of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs to the under-40s.

The modelling for the Delta variant in Ireland shows shocking rises in the worst-case model, which one source described as “grim and alarming” and another said would be “like an invasion”.

Ireland is set to break from the international trend by vaccinating younger age groups with the AstraZeneca and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

And in a move to fast-track vaccinations for the over-60s – around 100,000 of whom are still waiting for their second jab – the gap between doses of AstraZeneca is set to be slashed from eight to four weeks.

The two major changes to the vaccine rollout come as Nphet expressed “very real” fears to the Government about the potential for the highly infectious Delta variant to spread quickly once international travel and indoor mixing resumes.

The Sunday World understands that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has recommended that the current age limit on the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs be lifted to speed up the vaccination of the under-40s, who would previously have been waiting until later in the summer to be offered their first dose. It will also mean that these vaccines will not go to waste as had previously been feared.

Meanwhile, the gap between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was recently cut from 12 to eight weeks, is set to be slashed still further to four weeks.

Such a move would make tens of thousands of people aged in their 60s, who are at greater risk of the Delta variant, eligible for a second jab sooner. Sources suggested that Ireland may need to invoke an emergency or special exemption mechanism to make this move, because the European Medicines Agency authorisation for the second AstraZeneca jab currently specifies 56 days, or eight weeks.

A senior source said: “It makes total sense when we want to get people aged in their 60s vaccinated. This is what we would want from Niac.”

The most recent figures show that only 24pc of those in their 60s have been fully vaccinated, with more than three quarters – 76pc – keen to have their second jab in order to protect themselves against the deadly Delta variant.

Reaction

On the proposal to allow indoor dining for fully vaccinated, CEO of the RAI Adrian Cummins described it as “problematic”.

“Businesses across the country will be devastated with the announcement this morning that there’s a potential delay of a minimum two weeks but it could be a possible number of weeks beyond that in order to get their businesses back open,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

“The announcement in the past number of hours is that the Government want to push ahead with a system to allow vaccinated customers into indoor dining which will be problematic, we believe it will be discriminatory and we don’t believe its workable on any fronts

“It raises a number of legal questions around the discriminatory nature of what the Government is pressing forward under the equal status act.”

Mr Cummins added that if Government pushes ahead with a plan to only allow vaccinated people to dine indoors then staff would need to be fast-tracked to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

He said the only way to proceed is to treat restaurants equally to hotels.

“Hotels are operating as normal today, tomorrow and the weeks ahead, there’s no new introduction of a vaccine cert to gain access into it and the staff are unvaccinated and working happily away and we’ve had no outbreak of a Delta variant,” Mr Cummins said.

“So we’re extremely confused and extremely angry and we need to have an immediate meeting with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste today to discuss this.”

Mr Cummins said Ireland is an outlier in Europe and that the Government should be looking at European data rather than projections by Nphet.

He added: “In Northern Ireland, it’s open fully for all hospitality businesses but yet in the South we have this conservative approach where we are penalising business owners and keeping them shut for as long as possible and there’s no end in sight for our industry and that’s where there’s anger and frustration this morning.”

In a statement issued this morning, the Restaurants Association of Ireland said it was “angered and astounded” by a further delay of possible two weeks to reopening indoor dining.

“The proposal to develop a system that would permit only those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to eat and drink inside bars and restaurants we believe to be discriminatory and unworkable,” they wrote.

They added; “Restaurant, Pub and Café Owners will now be placed in the unenviable, complex and difficult position of allowing vaccinated customers enter indoors and restricting non vaccinated customers to outdoor dining.

"Such a practice of refusing access to goods and services is currently illegal under equality acts.”

Meanwhile, billions of euro were wiped off Irish shares yesterday as growing fears that a full reopening of the economy will be delayed by the spread of the Delta variant sapped investor confidence.

With the summer tourist season now hanging in the balance, travel stocks took the worst of the hit.

Ryanair shares fell 4.26pc yesterday. In money terms a stock market valuation approaching €18bn means a 4pc drop in Ryanair shares represents a paper loss of roughly €720m. In London, Aer Lingus owner IAG’s shares dropped to a four-month low.

Shares in Ireland’s biggest hotel chain Dalata fell 6.79pc to €3.91 each and the losses extended across much of the Dublin market.

The Irish banks, seen as proxies for the Irish economy as a whole, each saw significant drops in their share prices. Permanent TSB was down 6.23pc at €1.20 each.

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