Nphet and Niac to meet over resumption of indoor dining and vaccines for younger people

Unease in Cabinet that increase in Delta variant could jeopardise any revised date

A decision is expected to be announced after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which has been moved forward amid repeated calls for clarity from hospitality groups. File photograph: iStock

A decision is expected to be announced after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which has been moved forward amid repeated calls for clarity from hospitality groups. File photograph: iStock

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A series of meetings regarded as key to determining when the next loosening of Covid-19 restrictions happens are taking place on Monday, with Ministers pushing for a definitive date for the reopening of indoor hospitality.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) are meeting to consider, respectively, the pandemic situation in the State and changes to curbs on the provision of vaccines to people aged under 50.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday that the Government would need advice from both expert groups before making a final decision on whether to further ease Covid-19 curbs from July 5th.

A decision is expected to be announced after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which has been moved forward amid repeated calls for clarity from hospitality groups.

Some Ministers say privately that delaying the return of indoor hospitality until July 19th is the preferred option as it would coincide with the planned resumption of international travel.

However, there is growing unease among others in Cabinet that infection numbers will be higher in two or three weeks’ time because of the spread of the Delta variant of the disease and the fact that a significant proportion of the population would still not be vaccinated by then. They fear this could put any revised date for reopening in jeopardy.

Under the Government’s reopening plan, July 5th was to see the resumption of indoor dining and drinking, 50 people being permitted to attend a wedding and four households allowed to gather indoors.

A number of Ministers said they would push for a definitive date for reopening to be announced if any pause to the plan is agreed.

Vaccination flexibility

Niac is meeting to consider the use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in younger age cohorts.

One Government source said they were “hopeful” Niac would give the green light for the use of these vaccines among younger people given the increased threat of infection posed by the more transmissible Delta variant.

There is a belief in Government that if Niac recommends more flexibility, the pace of the vaccination programme could increase and a lengthy delay to reopening may not be necessary. Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said on Sunday it was not the plan to allow indoor hospitality to reopen only for those who have been vaccinated.

The three Coalition party leaders spoke last night about the evolving situation in relation to the Delta variant, but no decisions on how to proceed will be made until the advice from Nphet is received today.

Paul Moynagh, professor of immunology at Maynooth University, said the reopening should proceed as planned because vaccinations have brought strong benefits so far. He said primary schools were going on holidays and the seasonality effect of summer on respiratory viruses has reduced Covid-19 transmission. A further 340 cases of the disease were reported on Sunday.

“Now is probably as good at time as any to open up. There are lot of factors working in its favour, whereas I am not quite sure what will be achieved by delaying it for two weeks,” Prof Moynagh said.

He echoed the views expressed by UCD infectious diseases professor Paddy Mallon, who told RTÉ that a two-week delay in reopening indoor dining would not stop the inevitable spread of the variant or have a significant effect on the vaccination of young people.

In relation to international travel, the Taoiseach said the plan was to proceed with the EU travel cert from July 19th, although he said the Government would also take into account any Nphet advice on the issue.

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