Fears Delta variant could delay reopening of indoor hospitality from July 5th

If cases increase political sources expect medical experts to urge delay in reopening

The Cabinet discussed a likely excess of AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccine doses accumulating, raising the prospect of them being donated overseas or languishing in fridges while many remain unvaccinated

The Cabinet discussed a likely excess of AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccine doses accumulating, raising the prospect of them being donated overseas or languishing in fridges while many remain unvaccinated

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Ministers and senior officials fear an increase in Covid-19 case numbers due to the Delta variant over the next week will force them to delay reopening of indoor hospitality on July 5th.

While officials say there is at present no grounds to delay, senior public health sources said the chances of issuing advice to proceed as planned are “50-50”, and argued a two- to three-week delay could be effective.

“[That] buys you an extra 10-15 per cent of the population protected – that’s huge,” one senior public health official said, referring to the ongoing vaccination programme. “Why risk things for the sake of two weeks when we’ve come this far?”

There is nervousness in the health system around cases already being associated with pubs and gatherings, including of the more transmissible Delta variant. There is a particular fear about the northwest, that cases in Derry will drive infections in Donegal.

If cases rise political sources expect advice to delay the reopening, and there would be little resistance to such a recommendation. The fear in Government is Delta could account for 40 per cent of cases next week, and 60-70 per cent the following week. Currently it accounts for 20 per cent of cases.

There are concerns among some in Government that opening without sufficient vaccine cover could invite more pressure on hospitals still struggling with the impact of the cyber hack – even if lower deaths followed.

There is acceptance at Cabinet that Delta will become the dominant variant. Ministers acknowledged growing concern, and while some said it was not yet at the level that would halt reopening, multiple sources agreed public health advice would set the pace. One said there was “not a hope in hell” advice to delay would be ignored.

Cabinet on Tuesday discussed a likely excess of AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccine doses accumulating, raising the prospect of them being donated overseas or languishing in fridges while many remain unvaccinated. Both vaccines are currently limited on age grounds, but sources suggested they could be given to younger people if expert advice supported a change.

Mismatch

“Very shortly we’ll have a mismatch between the vaccines available and the people available to receive them, and that’s not going to be sustainable,” said a Government source. Mixing doses could also speed up the vaccine programme, sources suggested.

Cabinet was told that scientific advice indicates variants will continue to evolve. Vaccine immunity is not indefinite, it heard, and vaccinations should be extended to people under 16.

Ministers were told it is likely booster shots will be needed “for a very high proportion of the population over the coming months and next year”.

At the end of June, Ireland will have received 5.3 million doses. The country is contracted to receive up to another 11.2 million doses between July and the end of the year.