Full return of pubs and restaurants on July 5th looking unlikely

Scheduled reopening of indoor hospitality grows doubtful amid fears of Delta variant

There are concerns at senior levels of Government that a delay may lead to further extensions. Photograph: Alan Betson

There are concerns at senior levels of Government that a delay may lead to further extensions. Photograph: Alan Betson

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A delay to the reopening of indoor hospitality is seen as increasingly likely, with Government and official sources expecting advice to stall the full reopening of restaurants and pubs beyond July 5th.

However, there are also concerns at senior levels of Government a delay may lead to further extensions, with the next window for more reopening not arising until as late as autumn.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is working on advice to be delivered to Government next week. Officials believe the more infectious Delta variant will account for more than half of infections by the second or third week of July, and 90 per cent in early August.

While cautioning there is still a chance Nphet could recommend reopening as planned, especially if lower-than expected hospitalisations were indicated by modelling, a well-placed source said it was “highly likely” an extension would be advised.

Sources indicated if a delay was recommended and accepted, and if vaccine momentum was maintained, it was unlikely another extension would be needed.

Government sources said while indoor dining may be delayed, lifting of measures could be phased through July, meaning a date later in the month for its resumption could be signalled, while other measures were lifted as planned.

EU travel

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the intention was to open up travel as planned on July 19th. “There is strength in following a common [EU] approach,” he said.

Any delay would place pressure on the vaccine rollout to keep up pace. The Health Service Executive said on Thursday about 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca were due to arrive in August.

The chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has written to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to establish whether AstraZeneca – currently limited to people aged 50 and older – can be given to younger cohorts.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Thursday: “None of us want a situation where we have a stock here that we’re not utilising and we don’t have people vaccinated. So that’s a situation we’d all like to avoid, certainly from a HSE perspective.”

Mr Reid said while the disease was not currently having a significant impact due to the vaccination programme, the State was at a “point of unease and apprehension as to what might happen next”.

‘Easy prey’

Dr Colm Henry, the HSE’s chief clinical officer, said there was “easy prey” among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated for the new Delta variant. While he said those cohorts aren’t susceptible to serious disease and hospitalisations, there was emerging evidence that even where vaccination was high, hospitalisations increase when Delta grows rapidly.

“Despite the successes and the penetration of the vaccine programme, there’s considerable capacity for the Delta variant to cause harm,” he said.

Dr Colm Henry: “Despite the successes and the penetration of the vaccine programme, there’s considerable capacity for the Delta variant to cause harm.” Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Dr Colm Henry: “Despite the successes and the penetration of the vaccine programme, there’s considerable capacity for the Delta variant to cause harm.” Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

EU leaders raised concerns at a summit on Thursday that rising Delta cases in Britain, despite a high level of vaccination there, may signal a fresh surge across Europe. German chancellor Angela Merkel piled pressure on member states to enforce quarantine on UK travellers, even if they are vaccinated.

Mediterranean member states have been keen to reopen due to the importance of their tourism industries, and several countries have already begun using Covid-19 EU certificates to ease travel.

Speaking in Brussels, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said countries were likely to make different choices on travel and restrictions. “There may be different member state responses to the Delta variant,” Mr Martin said. “I don’t see a dramatic change at European level in respect of the Delta variant.”

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