A revised reopening plan has been unveiled by Ministers which will see the easing of further restrictions on the night-time economy coupled with the retention of public health measures until at least February 2022.
Under the plan, normal trading hours in pubs, restaurants and wider hospitality will resume, and nightclubs are set to reopen from Friday – albeit it with restrictions – for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
New rules will be developed for the operation of nightclubs which are likely to “involve Covid-19 passes, contact tracing data collection and wearing of face masks except when eating, drinking and dancing”, the Government said in a statement.
Religious services and weddings will now be allowed to proceed without any limits on capacity, while the return to workplaces will continue on a “phased and cautious” basis.
Speaking to reporters after the plan was announced Tánaiste Leo Varadkar admitted the country was not where it hoped to be with regards to coronavirus infections.
He said two or three weeks ago the trajectory of Covid cases had taken a turn for the worse with rising case numbers, hospitalisations and intensive care (ICU) numbers.
Mr Varadkar also warned the country was not past the peak of this Delta wave: “Indeed, we are most likely experiencing a twin peak.”
Mr Varadkar said: “The pandemic isn’t over yet. We’re going to have get through at least another winter before we can say it’s behind us.”
He told reporters at a post-Cabinet briefing: “We’re not where we hoped to be or expected to be for October 22nd.” He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) expected Covid-19 cases to peak at the end of October, with ICU numbers peaking at about 150 by the end of November.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said a booster vaccine programme for people aged 60 and over would begin “immediately”, following a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
“Over the course of the last two weeks we have seen a worsening of the Covid situation,” Mr Martin added. “These figures are a cause of concern and a timely reminder of how dangerous this virus is.”
The Government had hoped to fully lift the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions from October 22nd but the recent surge in cases has seen these plans amended. Instead, many restrictions will remain in place.
A Covid-19 vaccine certificate will still be required for indoor hospitality and events, while the use of face masks and social distancing will remain in place until 2022.
“Government has made its decision in relation to Nphet advice,” Mr Martin said.
The Government has also agreed to an enhanced role for antigen testing. Mr Martin said the State’s rapid testing expert advisory group will provide a recommendation on the use of voluntary self-testing by asymptomatic individuals who plan to attend risky activities, such as nightclubs.
Antigen tests will also be used for fully vaccinated people who are close contacts and have no symptoms.
Mr Martin added: “The progress we have made together is real and it has to be protected. The changes we have made gives us the space to make sure that the next step we take is safe.
“If you are indoors with other people, wear a mask. If you are running a business that is bringing people indoors, check for vaccination certs. If you have not been vaccinated or had a second vaccination, please make arrangement to get fully vaccinated. It is safe and it is free.”
‘Live with Covid’
Mr Varadkar also told reporters that Nphet had considered recommending a full pause of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions but had ultimately recommended against such a course of action because the Covid-19 situation would not change in the next number of weeks
“We are going to have to live with Covid. It won’t be easy,” Mr Varadkar said.
During their meeting Ministers considered the latest recommendations from Nphet, which said restrictions such as mask wearing and social distancing must remain in place until February 2022.
In a letter to Ministers, the chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, warned the epidemiological situation in Ireland had deteriorated and was now uncertain and precarious.
The latest estimates show there are about 370,000 people who have yet to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated against Covid and these people will not be able to avail of indoor hospitality.
The Government has also decided that the current enhanced illness benefit payment arrangements for Covid-19 will remain in place. This benefit is available at a rate of €350 a week, with no waiting days, for employees and self-employed people who are certified by a registered medical practitioner as diagnosed with Covid-19 or a probable source of infection of Covid-19.
With regards to international travel, intending passengers will continue to require evidence of a valid PCR test result, unless exempt (such as vaccinated or recovered or children under 12), while airlines continue to be required to check PCR test results and to deny boarding to passengers who do not have acceptable documentation.
It is understood Niac recommended a dose of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged between 60 and 79 who have been vaccinated. The booster shot will be given at least five months after the previous dose.
There were 2,399 new case reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday, the highest number of since January of this year. Tuesday’s figures show there are 473 patients in hospital and 74 in ICU.The five-day case averageof cases is 1,890.