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Reopening plans Nightclubs to open using Covid Certs and booster vaccines for over-60s under new plan

This Friday will no longer mark the end of Covid rules amid fears over increasing case numbers and hospitalisations

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Shoppers on Henry Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Shoppers on Henry Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Shoppers on Henry Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Nightclubs will be permitted to reopen using Digital Covid Certificates under the government’s new reopening plan.

This Friday will no longer mark the end of Covid rules amid fears over increasing case numbers and hospitalisations.

The Cabinet is expected to accept advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that it is too soon to declare the pandemic effectively over in Ireland.

Now, the Government must decide today whether to lift the curfew on night-time hospitality – but extended use of Digital Covid Certificates into the winter months is certain.

The certificates are now expected to be part of nightclubs’ reopening, where venues will have to follow strict protocols and also be encouraged to use antigen tests.

There will be engagement between government and nightclub industry on how to open safely.

It is unclear when they will be permitted open but the government want it to happen as soon as possible.

The use of antigen tests will be promoted on a voluntary basis for high risk indoor activities.

The return to full capacity sports stadiums will be permitted from Friday under the plan on the basis it is an outdoor activity.

Restrictions on hospitality are expected to remain in place until at least February next year.

And the Government is expected to shun a major return to office next week, and instead continue to encourage office workers to return to the workplace on a gradual basis.

Meanwhile, over-60s will soon be able to avail of Covid-19 booster vaccine shots following advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

The extension of boosters will be an essential element of the Government’s plan to tackle the resurgent virus.

It is hoped the HSE can begin administering boosters to over-60s as soon as possible.

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Niac’s advice will be discussed by Cabinet today.

Also, antigen testing will finally be scaled-up as the Government is expected to delay lifting the final Covid-19 restrictions.

The party leaders met last night to discuss advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team on existing plans to ease almost all restrictions on October 22.

The rising number of new Covid-19 cases has put a significant strain on the health service again and has force a rethink on reopening plans.

It is now expected that plans to lift restrictions on the hospitality sector, large gatherings and social distancing will not go ahead as planned. As part of the plans to address the new wave of cases, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is also pushing for more widespread use of antigen tests across government department.

Mr Donnelly is frustrated that his Cabinet colleagues have not taken advantage of an expert group on antigen testing which he established during the summer. The group, chaired by chief scientist Mark Ferguson, is available to provide advice to all department on utilising antigen tests.

However, at present the tests are only being used in healthcare settings and in third-level education.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he is a “strong believer in antigen testing” and said he wants a further role out of the programme.

“Our public health officials have a more moderated perspective on the value of antigen testing but some sectors have rolled out antigen testing and that is something that the Government will be considering as well over the next 24 hours,” Mr Martin said.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has run pilot schemes in universities which have seen students and staff avail of the rapid tests before going to classes.

The department is sponsoring the UniCov project, which is being carried out in four locations. UCD, UCC, NUI ­Galway and Trinity College.

The HSE has carried out a pilot in five further and higher education locations, and has extended it to seven sites this autumn.

As of last week, 11,217 tests were carried out with less than 1pc showing a positive result. Around 60pc of those participating in the pilot testing schemes are students and 40 per cent are staff.

Anyone with a positive test is referred for a PCR test, in line with public health advice.

Separately, the Taoiseach indicated the use of Digital Covid Certificates, masks and physical distancing measures will continue beyond this ­Friday,

Mr Martin has denied the country is going through a “Groundhog Day” scenario.

However, he acknowledged the rise in hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) is causing concern.

The majority of public health measures were scheduled to end on Friday but the Government is now likely to take a more cautious approach. Speaking in Sligo, the Taoiseach said: “That said we are in a much different space and situation to this time last year because of vaccination.”

Asked about concern among those planning social events about what lay ahead Mr said: “The continuation of the Covid certs is certainly an item on the agenda as is mask wearing and so on.”

Mr Martin said vaccinations had transformed the situation in terms of our capacity to deal with and cope with Covid-19.

“So we would encourage people out there who have still not been vaccinated to get vaccinated and particularly those with first dose to get their second dose,” he said.

Mr Martin insisted that it had not been a mistake to herald October 22 as a date for the lifting of all restrictions.

“No, I mean back then we were on a very good trajectory and up to last week public health (advice) was positive enough about the ways things were going.”

Mr Martin said there was no conflict between the Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn and the Government on remote working.

In a Twitter video on Friday, Dr Glynn suggested that people should work from home into next year.

Mr Martin said the Government announced in September there would be a phased return to the workplace.

“That was government policy as stated in September following decisions taken by government. There has been no change yet. ”

“This isn’t an absence of clarity – essentially it’s that Covid is behaving in a certain way. It has caused an increase in cases, an increase in the ­number of hospitalisations.

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