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country on hold Nphet warns of thousands of daily Covid cases if Delta takes hold as reopening to stall

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Credit: Brian Lawless

Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Credit: Brian Lawless

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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Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Credit: Brian Lawless

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

Plans are now being developed to majorly restructure the vaccine rollout and the hospitality sector is set for another blow as its indoor reopening is postponed.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is recommending a delay of “several weeks,” which would end any prospect of indoor dining or drinking returning soon. It threatens to push the full reopening of Irish society into September — with reviews of the landscape in the interim.

Ministers are said to be shocked at the severity of the warnings and scale of the recommendation from Nphet.

Nphet’s advice to Government warns of “a peak of deaths in August” as a result of a Delta virus wave of infections in Ireland.

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 restoration of indoor drinking and dining – seen as vital to saving the summer trade for many businesses – is set to be delayed for at least two weeks beyond the planned resumption date of July 5.

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.

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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.

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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