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on hold Two-week delay to indoor dining likely as ‘halfway house’ solution for fully-vaccinated ruled out

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Photo: Steve Humphreys

Photo: Steve Humphreys

Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Government is ruling out a ‘halfway house’ solution to reopening indoor hospitality for the fully vaccinated.

Instead ministers look likely to agree to a two-week delay to the planned indoor reopening for pubs and restaurants, which would dovetail it with the July 19 return to air travel across the EU.

A Government spokesman said the argument for a vaccine bonus of access to meals and drinks for the fully vaccinated might appear a tempting idea, but fell down on some fronts.

They included how to establish that customers were vaccinated, and even if a certain age of admission was set, it risked jeopardising public support for the overall campaign.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the main problem would be how to tell the vaccine status or diners or drinkers. “You would be having in every pub or every restaurant people having to show evidence and so on – we’re not set up to do that,” he said.

“Also, we’ve had huge support for the vaccination programme, and we want that to continue.

“I think we’d have to be slightly careful if you start making a condition for everyday life, I think we could lose some of the public support.

“Yes, for international travel, certainly, vaccination is a key asset, but when it comes to everyday life here, I don’t think we should use it in that way.”

Advice is awaited from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which will meet today, along with modelling on the projected advance of the Delta variant.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) will separately advise on the use of all available vaccines to help get those aged 60-69, who may have received only one AstraZeneca dose, a booster shot before the Delta variant takes over in Ireland.

It will also consider how to deploy additional stocks of vaccines, with fears mainly focused on unvaccinated young people who stand directly in Delta’s firing line.

A further 340 daily cases were reported last night, with 47 in hospital and the number in intensive care rising slightly to 15.

The Government will decide tomorrow on the reopening of indoor hospitality, or more likely a further fortnight’s delay. A Cabinet sub-committee, including all three Coalition party leaders – who spoke by phone last night – will take place, probably tonight after the Nphet advice and modelling is received.

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The Taoiseach struck an optimistic note in an interview on The Week in Politics on RTÉ yesterday, without giving anything away on the crucial question of the exact date.

“The calculus is different now. The risk is different now than at Christmas time,” he said.

“We have 2.5 million people fully vaccinated now, with close to four million overall vaccine doses administered between first and second doses.”

He added: “The older age cohorts have been protected, so all of that has to feed into the decisions that we take in respect of this.”

The Restaurant Association of Ireland had earlier called on him to make the decision known within the next 48 hours, as outlets were facing questions on perishable goods and a short-notice postponement would mean a further cost.

Mr Martin said he understood “just how difficult and devastating the last year has been for hospitality in particular. We get that, and we also understand the need to give early notice.

“They will know a little bit earlier than they had anticipated.”

Mr Martin said reports of varying levels of concern and caution between himself and his Fine Gael partners in Government “are not entirely accurate.

“Obviously we’re all going to be cautious. We’re going to put the protection of lives as a priority, but also we know from the economic perspective that the approach we’ve taken so far has been effective and successful.

“We’ve brought back the schools, we brought back construction, personal services, retail, hotels and so on, all without dramatically causing any spikes.

“We’ve shown that that sort of steady return of the economy is sustainable. That’s the mantra – whatever we open, we keep open.”

But Mr Martin said he wanted to hear the advice and to see the modelling done in respect of the Delta variant and how cases might grow in the future.

He acknowledged, however, that if there is a further delay to reopening, Ireland will be the only country in Europe that will not have indoor dining when July arrives. “I’m very conscious of that, and there’s a number of moving parts to this.

“There’s the vaccination part, the advice we get from Nphet, the continuing application of high levels of testing across the country, and more innovative methods of testing as well to keep the pressure on the virus.

“We’re pretty clear that we need to maintain that high level of testing.

“With the Delta variant you might get outbreaks in certain locations and we can move in quickly.”

But he added: “I’m not going to speculate on what the decision will be. I don’t think that’s fair.”

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