Hospitality groups urge Nphet role in talks on indoor reopening

Coalition facing mounting pressure for introduction of ‘vaccine passport’ antigen testing

Hospitality sector representatives have said it is essential that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is involved in talks with Government today on reopening indoor services.

The sector is pressing the Government to produce a plan with a specific date to allow them resume services.

Separately, unions have argued workers must be heard in the process. And they want to be included in the working group set up by the Government to examine the issue.

Hospital Report

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland said a meeting without Nphet would be "akin to having an All Ireland hurling match without umpires" while Pádraig Cribben of the Vintners Federation of Ireland said there is "no point in going through a process" if the maker of the ultimate decision has no input.

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“There has to be reassurance that whatever route we decide to take is not going to be reversed [subsequently],” he added.

There are growing expectations that antigen testing will form a strand of the so-called “vaccine passport” for hospitality.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney confirmed yesterday it will be an option, after Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure Ossian Smyth said on Saturday it would be considered. Several other Ministers went further, privately saying that testing would definitely be involved.

In a letter to the Tánaiste and Minister for Employment Leo Varadkar at the weekend, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called for the introduction of an antigen testing programme "on a continuous basis, possibly modelled on the meat factories experience".

However, there are divided views in the hospitality industry on such testing. While most sectors favour it, publicans say it will not work in rural areas where testing is not available. Mr Cribben also noted that impulse decisions to dine out or go for a drink would not be possible with antigen testing.

Huge loss of business

There is still uncertainty if a system can be put in place by July 19th. Hospitality representatives are expected to argue today that it is critical there are no further delays because of the huge loss of business that will ensue during the key months of July and August.

Meanwhile, the State seems close to having 70 per cent of the adult population fully vaccinated by the end of this month.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that with the current streams of vaccines available at present, it had forecast that between 60 to 63 per cent of the adult population would be vaccinated fully by the end of July, but that this could now be accelerated.

Mr Reid said the projected one million additional mRNA vaccines which the Government is planning to purchase from Romania would allow for 500,000 more people to be vaccinated fully.

“That is another 12 or 13 per cent. We are putting this all together right now. But ultimately it has a real potential to pull things forward,” he said.

Mr Reid added that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee was examining whether to recommend vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds but had not yet “come to any conclusion”.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times