Ministers are to proceed with plans to remove remaining Covid-19 restrictions throughout the autumn and winter despite a sharp rise in hospitalisations and the high incidence of the disease around the country.
There were 314 patients in hospital with Covid-19 on Sunday morning, an increase of 55 on the previous day and the highest number since March. Of those 59 were being treated in intensive care units.
Cabinet members will meet on Friday to finalise a comprehensive plan with set timelines for the reopening of the arts and live entertainment sectors, religious services, indoor sports, workplaces, indoor events and leisure outlets such as bingo halls, arcades and casinos.
Cabinet sources say there is a “strong case” to be made for restrictions to be eased given some 85 per cent of adults are now fully vaccinated.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which on Sunday reported a further 1,688 cases, is to meet on Wednesday to finalise its advice to Government ahead of the publication of the latest reopening plan next week.
There is understood to be concern amongst its members about any moves to further ease restrictions before the expected peak of the Delta variant wave next month.
A Government source said that while public health advice will be taken into consideration in terms of the plan, the increase in cases and hospitalisations did not come as a surprise.
Some tensions between Government and Nphet have resurfaced in recent days as some Ministers have privately expressed a view that the high vaccination uptake is not fully being taken into account.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid on Sunday described recent Covid-19 figures as a “very real” threat. He said almost 6.6 million vaccinations have been administered to date, with 91 per cent of adults now partially vaccinated.
The reopening of schools will also proceed despite the high level of Covid-19 infection in the community. Schools will from today (Monday) begin receiving carbon-dioxide monitors which are being rolled out to improve ventilation and attempt to prevent outbreaks of the disease.
Health sources said extensive work had taken place throughout the summer to ensure schools could reopen. In an attempt to reassure parents and teachers that this can be done safely, Minister for Education Norma Foley has asked Nphet what role rapid antigen testing could play in the coming school year.
In a new report published Monday the HSE maintains that schools should seek to reopen as a high priority. Its epidemiological review for the last academic year – up until July – said that “all recommendations for risk mitigation and infection prevention and control should continue”.
It said that “testing regimes and exclusion periods for children should be considered again nationally”, and that “linking testing result to the ending of restricted movements should be reconsidered in the education setting”.
The review said that more than 46,000 children contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in March of last year.
However, it said outbreaks in schools were usually of small scale (two or three subsequent cases) “with usually friendship groups testing positive amongst both pupils and staff”.