The Government was scrambling to defend its plan for reopening indoor hospitality on Tuesday night amid confusion over the role of GPs and calls from the Opposition for more clarity on how the scheme will work.
Ministers and officials were forced to issue several corrections during a day of confusion as meetings continued between Government and industry stakeholders about how the plan – which would see the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate used to gain entry to pubs and restaurants – will work. Several high-ranking Government insiders were privately scathing about the presentation of the plan.
Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin told RTÉ on Tuesday morning that people could ask their GPs for letters saying they had recovered from Covid and therefore had immunity, but after the Irish Medical Organisation said no such arrangement was in place, Minister of State Ossian Smyth said she had been mistaken.
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Mr Smyth apologised for the misunderstanding over the issuing of recovery certificates and said GPs would have no role in issuing letters or certificates.
“I will be issuing the recovery certificates,” he said. “If anyone has tested positive, they should not involve their GP. They should contact the call centre which has been established. The call centre will have a record of all cases and can issue the cert,” he said.
However, the Government later clarified that a letter from GPs could be used both to obtain a digital cert and to gain entry to pubs and restaurants. Asked about the role of GPs during a post-Cabinet press briefing, the Government’s spokesman said: “It is an option, it’s just not the first port of call.”
Officials said the details of the scheme were still being worked out. The Government said it would introduce the Bill to provide for the changes in the Dáil on Wednesday, and would use the guillotine, a parliamentary device to end debate and force a vote, in order to get the Bill passed. The Government will then bring the Bill to the Seanad on Friday, after which it will be sent to the President for signature.
Once signed into law, it will be commenced by order of the Minister for Health, allowing the pubs and restaurants to begin indoor service in line with the new rules. The Government hopes that will happen next week, though says it could be the following Monday, July 26th, at the latest.
Ministers were also updated on the progress of the vaccination programme and told that all eligible people aged over 16 would be offered a vaccine by the end of September. Officials are examining the question of vaccinating 12-15 year olds in the autumn and also the question of a booster vaccination programme, Ministers were told.
The Cabinet also agreed that children under the age of 12 would no longer be required to take a PCR test on entering the State.
There was fierce criticism of the Government from the Opposition all day, though Opposition parties were also divided on the issue of reopening indoor dining.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the decision to reopen was a “reckless mistake”, while Labour leader Alan Kelly said his party supported indoor dining but would offer it to everybody, with people using other techniques such as PCR and antigen testing.
Meanwhile, new modelling will be presented at a briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Wednesday. Sources said there had been no fundamental change to the modelling or the assumptions around the possible trajectories which were done late in June.
Sources indicated things were more likely to progress in line with the more optimistic or lower of the two “central” scenarios, considering the current reopening plan.
However, much uncertainty remains regarding how the disease will progress, and there is concern at recent case figures, with the path of the disease determined by the level of mixing between people, rather than whether that happens in restaurants and pubs. More mixing could still result in a more severe outcome, sources warned.