The Government will make a “very significant” decision on Friday to restore society to its pre-pandemic status by allowing the reopening of three of the sectors most adversely affected by lockdown by the end of July.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris separately signalled on Sunday that the three sectors – aviation; indoor hospitality; and sport and live cultural events – would be in line for timely reopenings this summer.
A number of other Ministers said privately that the “mood music” was very encouraging.
While the Government could delay the introduction of the EU-wide digital green certificate for travel until the middle of August, Ministers are pressing for it to be introduced before the end of July.
Under the scenario set out by several Ministers, indoor hospitality in restaurants and pubs will be allowed from early July. In addition, spectators will be allowed at selected sporting events, as long as their numbers do not exceed 5 per cent of capacity. For Croke Park, that would mean about 4,000 spectators; for the Aviva Stadium, in the region of 3,000. That percentage of capacity is set to increase as the summer progresses.
One million doses
The confidence has been bolstered primarily by the success of the national vaccination programme in meeting its targets. It is now likely that one million vaccine doses will be administered in May alone, with growing confidence in the Government that 82 per cent of eligible adults will have been offered at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of June.
The growing confidence was confirmed by Mr Harris on Sunday: “Two weeks ago people were talking about closing the Border and mandatory hotel quarantine. Now we are talking about when we can get back in the skies again. I suppose that is a sign of the success of our vaccine programme,” he told RTÉ.
Mr Harris said Friday’s meeting would be “very significant” as it would address reopening for what he described as the “three trickiest sectors”.
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin is also working on a detailed programme that will allow live events to be piloted from late June, similar to live outdoor gigs in Liverpool earlier this month.
Return of planes
Mr McGrath said the Government had provided extensive supports to airports and airlines but its priority was to “get planes back in the sky. We are a country that depends on international connectivity.”
However, the Restaurant Association said on Sunday that as soon as hotels reopened on June 2nd, it would mount a High Court challenge arguing the distinction between hotel restaurants and standalone restaurants was unfair. “It is discriminatory and will create divisions,” said chief executive Adrian Cummins.
It comes as a senior public health official warned Ireland runs the risk of a spike in variant cases this summer if it moves too quickly to increase indoor social mixing in July or allows the importation of Covid-19.
A new study showed the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were only 33 per cent effective against the Indian variant, three weeks after a first dose, the study by Public Health England showed. Effectiveness after two doses rose to 88 per cent for Pfizer and 60 per cent for AstraZeneca.
Prof Philip Nolan, a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, said Ireland would have less than 50 per cent protection against the Indian variant during July because not enough people would have received both doses of the vaccine.