Ministers have been warned that the deepening complexity of Covid restrictions risks damaging compliance among the population, as frustration mounts over the operation of the digital Covid cert and guidelines for indoor dining.
The Cabinet was told yesterday of new behavioural research which shows the degree to which people find restrictions coherent and easy to understand is decreasing.
Ministers were told that if people find the regulations hard to understand, people are more likely to have mixed with each other, had social visits and close contacts and be generally less cautious about Covid-19 in their day-to-day behaviour, according to the research by the ESRI/Department of the Taoiseach .
The warning comes amid a third day of recrimination over the operation of the digital Covid certificate, which is being used for travel and will be key to accessing indoor dining. While 2.1 million certificates have been issued, a higher-than-expected volume of calls has led to huge queue times on the Covid certificate helpline.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin denied the process of issuing certificates was a “mess”, after it emerged that fewer than 3,000 out of more than 40,000 callers to the helpline had been dealt with. Call centre staff are to be doubled, and an online form brought on to request “recovery certs”, but reports of long waits continued.
Elsewhere, the hospitality industry was still awaiting full clarity on reopening guidelines. Some detail is emerging: six adults are to be permitted at a table, points of entry will be controlled with proof of vaccination needed, time limits disposed of and no bar service permitted. An app is being developed to allow businesses to scan digital Covid certs, while an 11.30pm closing time is to be mandated.
However, hospitality firms are still waiting for finalisation of how the system will work. At Cabinet yesterday, the Attorney General raised concerns about some aspects of the indoor dining regulations, such as data protection and enforcement and exclusion of non-vaccinated people. This led to talks last evening with senior officials and Fáilte Ireland. Sources said guidelines are likely to be issued only on Friday, giving restaurants and cafes just two full days to prepare for reopening.
It comes after President Michael D Higgins yesterday signed off on legislation to pave the way for indoor dining to recommence. Pádraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, said: “It is important now that the regulations and guidelines are complete by Thursday evening to allow full and proper procedures to be in place for a safe opening on Monday.”
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, called for the immediate publication of the guidelines, saying 180,000 workers were depending on them for the safe and secure reopening of the sector.
It is understood Ministers discussed the possibility of a midweek start date next week if the planned date could not be met, but decided to commit to the 26th.
More granular data
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said up to 4,000 cases a day may be diagnosed in a matter of weeks, but that mortality would be far lower and hospitalisations may not rise much above 500. The Government has also decided to seek more granular data on Covid hospitalisations, establishing those who are hospitalised because they are ill with Covid and those who have Covid but have been hospitalised for other reasons.
However, further easing of restrictions is unlikely to happen soon, with limits on wedding numbers, crowds at performances and matches remaining, and indoor leisure facilities staying closed for now as the Government seeks to consolidate progress made so far.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said a "significant increase" in hospitalisations and intensive care admissions could follow if incidence continued to grow. The latest estimate of new case growth rate is 6-7 per cent per day. There were 1,378 cases of Covid diagnosed yesterday, 96 people with the virus in hospital and 22 in intensive care.