Spread of the coronavirus Delta variant is causing growing concern in Government with fears of a “spill over” of infections from the United Kingdom.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and HSE chief executive Paul Reid highlighted the highly transmissible mutation. And they urged the public to be cautious as a fourth wave of Covid-19 infection looms.
Despite concern over the impact of Delta, work is continuing on plans to reopen indoor hospitality services with an expectation that legislation to facilitate this will be fast-tracked through the Oireachtas next week.
Proposals which would mean people who have been fully vaccinated, or have recently recovered from Covid-19, able to eat and drink inside restaurants and pubs are seen as the most likely way to resume indoor services.
Mr Martin offered no firm date for when such services will reopen.
The hospitality sector is still pushing for a resumption on July 19th, the same day non-essential international travel is due to resume.
British prime minister Boris Johnson has said most coronavirus restrictions will lift in England from the same date.
Mr Martin said on Thursday that is he concerned about the “free for all that seems to be developing” in the UK and the implications for Ireland, as what happens there can “spill over fairly quickly”.
“Britain is obviously a sovereign nation and is entitled to make its decisions,” he said. But, he added: “Obviously they do impact on us as well so I think people need to be cautious and careful.”
He said the use of antigen testing on a “population-wide basis” is under consideration if Ireland’s testing and tracing regime comes under strain due to Delta.
Hospitalisations are “edging up” and Mr Martin suggested that modelling provided by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) appears to be borne out “particularly in terms of the space between ‘central one’ and ‘central two’ scenarios”. These are based on more social mixing, projecting between 187,000 and 408,000 cases over July, August and September and between 545 and 1,230 deaths.
“What’s happening in Scotland and the UK seems to be bearing out with some of the Nphet modellings so we need to take it seriously,” said Mr Martin.
However, The Irish Times understands that public health officials are revising the modelling scenarios for a fourth wave arising from the deferment of indoor dining and its likely restriction to vaccinated people.
Models under development suggest a much lower risk if indoor dining is confined to the vaccinated, and as a result of the acceleration of the vaccination programme announced last week.
Nphet is expected to brief on the revised models early next week and public health officials are expected to amend their modelling scenarios.
Elsewhere, Mr Reid said the growth of the Delta variant is likely to “outmatch” the supply of vaccines over the coming weeks. He said he wished there was more time, and more supplies, to enable the health service to stay ahead of the increase in cases.
He urged people to be “really careful” over the weeks ahead.