September 20th to be key date for reopening, Taoiseach says

Office working and confirmations set to resume while rules on entertainment ease

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘We can certainly see lifting of restrictions in terms of entertainment and theatre and the arts in September.’ Photograph: iStock

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘We can certainly see lifting of restrictions in terms of entertainment and theatre and the arts in September.’ Photograph: iStock

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has given a strong indication that most of the sectors of Irish society which have remained closed during the Covid-19 pandemic will reopen on the week beginning September 20th.

Mr Martin said September will be a “significant month” in terms of reopening, following 18 months of Covid-19 restrictions.

He indicated that September 20th would be a date where much would happen in terms of reopening the sectors of society, such as live entertainment and theatre, that have remained largely closed since March 2020. It is also likely to be the week when employees begin returning to workplaces and indoor sport would be allowed to resume.

Confirmations and communions are also to be allowed resume in September while there is to be a phased easing of restrictions on the number of people that can attend outdoor events.

Speaking to the media at Government Buildings, Mr Martin said the Cabinet subcommittee had made progress but would need another meeting on Monday to finalise the details of the reopening plan.

He placed huge emphasis on the landmark of 90 per cent of the adult population being fully vaccinated, which will occur in or around September 6th, saying that it represented the “optimum” percentage that could be reached in terms of vaccination. .

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had emphasised that a two-week buffer period was required after people received their final vaccine dose. That would indicate that September 20th would be the indicative date for most reopenings.

“We can certainly see lifting of restrictions in terms of entertainment and theatre and the arts in September.

“What [the sectors] have been saying to us is they want to see a timeline for a return to work,” he said, adding that the Government would give those timelines, but the return would be phased and done in a “safe way”.

While not committing to any detail, he also indicated the night life sector would be among the last to reopen.

Earlier Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the public transport sector should be fully reopened by early September.

Mr Martin said that details of the roadmap and timelines would be finalised on Monday, before the new plan was presented to a full Cabinet meeting for approval on Tuesday.

“We have had a phased gradual reopening of society [and it] has worked,” he said. “Let’s do it on the premise we don’t have to go backwards.”

He said the plan was working even though the Delta variant had had an impact and the number of cases was high. He said it had not, crucially, translated into corresponding increases in hospitalisations or intensive care (ICU) admissions.

‘High virus level’

A further 1,875 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the Republic on Friday, with 326 people in hospital, including 59 in ICU.

As the latest figures were confirmed, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Ireland’s 14-day incidence is currently 531 per 100,000. This means that, as per ECDC [European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control] categorisation, Ireland is now classified as dark red with incidence higher than 500 per 100,000.

“This demonstrates that there is presently a high level of virus transmitting in Ireland. With so much disease circulating in the community the reality is that if you are unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated, you are at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and potentially becoming very unwell.

“As we come into the weekend, it’s important to risk-assess your plans, particularly if you are not yet fully vaccinated. Try to meet up in small groups, meet outdoors and avoid crowds if possible.”

The tone of Dr Holohan’s comments seemed somewhat at odds with the mood of the Cabinet Covid-19 subcommittee. Ministers were given what was described as a thorough presentation on the current Covid-19 situation at Friday’s meeting.

They heard that 87 per cent of adults are now fully vaccinated. However, they were told there is still a high prevalence of the Delta variant and that the latest roadmap will be planned in the knowledge that case numbers are still expected to peak.

Electric Picnic

Efforts to find a way to allow Electric Picnic go ahead are to continue nevertheless and the Government will be engaging with the organisers over the weekend.

Consideration is also being given to allowing larger crowds at horse-racing events.

The Irish Times understands that the possibility of using vaccine passes to increase the numbers allowed to attend theatre performances has been discussed. Currently audiences are restricted to 50 people.

Speaking after Friday’s meeting, Mr Ryan said there was broad agreement among all the people present that the reopening of society would continue to occur.

Minister for Arts and Tourism Catherine Martin also attended the meeting and will attend again on Monday. Ms Martin has previously raised concern that waiting for the 90 per cent vaccination threshold could lead to an unacceptable delay in the reopening of the arts and live entertainment sector.

She said she is exploring what is possible in terms of indoor live entertainment and whether it will require a vaccine pass, adding that venues need to be able to fill about 80 per cent capacity to be viable.

Mr Ryan said he was not in a position to say when live events would resume, saying further details would be agreed on Monday.

“We are in a high-risk situation. Numbers are still high. We as a Government committed to reopen on a staged basis. We said we would come back at the end of August with a plan which we have,” he said.

‘Safe’ reopening

Earlier Nphet had told the Government that more than 90 per cent of people over the age of 16 should be vaccinated fully before the next easing of pandemic measures is considered, meaning that any major changes would be unlikely before October.

Amid growing pressure for an easing of the restrictions, however, the Cabinet subcommittee considered what could be changed in September.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly struck a note of caution ahead of Friday’s meeting, saying: “As always we want everything to open up as quickly as possible, but it has to be done safely. We don’t want a situation where things are moving too fast and a lot of extra people get very sick and in some cases people unfortunately die.”

However, he said vaccination rates are “incredibly high” with more than 90 per cent of adults partially inoculated and 85 per cent fully vaccinated.

“I don’t think we need to get up on a particular figure, be it 90 per cent, 87 per cent, 93 per cent. We’re getting there or thereabouts anyway.”

A large number of Covid-19 vaccination centres will again offer walk-in clinics over the weekend for both first and second doses, to encourage younger people to receive the vaccine.

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