Covid-19: 365 new cases reported in State as number of delta instances grows

Hospitality industry pushes for earlier indoor dining reopening plan

Representatives of the hospitality industry have called for planning in advance of the current date for reopening. Photograph: iStock

Representatives of the hospitality industry have called for planning in advance of the current date for reopening. Photograph: iStock

 

A further 365 new cases of Covid-19 have been reported by the Department of Health on Monday. Additionally, there were 51 patients in hospital with the virus, 14 of those being in an ICU.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that more than 70 per cent of all cases are now accounted for by the delta variant.

“While this variant continues to present a threat, those of us who are fully vaccinated can have confidence in their vaccine and should feel comfortable meeting with other fully vaccinated people in all settings.

“Unfortunately, the Delta variant continues to present a risk to those of us who are unvaccinated or waiting for a second dose of vaccine – we need to continue to follow the public health advice, manage you contacts, avoid crowds, wear a mask, wash your hands and most importantly get your Covid-19 vaccine when it is offered to you.”

Earlier, it was reported that representatives of the hospitality industry are pushing for a plan for the reopening of indoor hospitality to be agreed before the Government’s July 19th target date.

The move comes as new figures show the number of cases of the delta variant of Covid-19 identified in the Republic has risen to 320. The vast majority of variant cases – at least 274 – have occurred in the east of the country.

Thirty per cent of cases of the variant have been identified in the past four weeks, according to internationally compiled figures. At the end of June, 220 variant cases had been sequenced by the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

About 30 per cent of Covid-19 cases undergo genetic sequencing to establish the variant involved, so the total number of delta variant cases is higher.

And because it takes two weeks to establish the variant involved in a confirmed case, the published figures do not reflect the current position.

The more transmissible delta variant has become dominant among sequenced cases over the past six weeks.

However, the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) are arguing that plans be agreed so they can prepare for the expected resumption of non-essential international travel on that date and the prospect of a return of tourists.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) have also said their view is that July 19th is the date pubs should be reopening, so a plan must be in place earlier.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times understands that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was not invited to take part in Monday’s meeting.

The Government last week adopted Nphet’s recommendation that indoor services in restaurants and pubs should only resume for people who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from a recent Covid-19 infection.

The Cabinet agreed to prepare a plan – which could include the use of digital passes indicating if someone is vaccinated – by July 19th but gave the hospitality industry no indicative date for when they could open.

‘At the table’

Speaking ahead of Monday afternoon’s meeting with senior Government officials, representatives of the sector have expressed disappointed that Nphet will not be taking part in the talks on Monday amid fears the public health advisory body could veto plans made in their absences.

RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to intervene to request that Nphet attend at some stage during the talks.

Mr Cummins said he wants Nphet to attend as: “Nphet are the kingmakers in the decision-making process and Government have always said they will follow public health advice.”

VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben argued that Nphet will be the “decision makers” and they “need to be at the table”.

Coalition sources said Monday’s meeting is to be an “initial” engagement between senior officials and the hospitality sector, and that Nphet will be consulted “at the appropriate time” in the process.

Mr Cummins said his organisation wants “a business-like approach seeking a workable, viable and authentic plan to reopen restaurants, pubs and cafes from July 19th, in line with the resumption of international travel.

He said: “It is critical we have a plan in place a week ahead of reopening international travel on July 19th in order for businesses to prepare to reopen as international tourists enter the State.”

He said the RAI “is willing to work night and day and we hope this is reciprocated on the Government side.”

Mr Cribben said he wants a plan for reopening to be agreed by the end of this week or early next week.

He said: “We’ve been very clear that we need a plan not by July 19th, we need a plan for July 19th.”

He said this because pubs want to reopen on that day and will have to make preparations in terms of staffing and ordering stock.

Ventilation

The need for good ventilation in buildings and long-term plans for coping with Covid-19 have been highlighted by environmental expert, Dr Orla Hegarty.

The assistant professor at the school of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy at UCD, told RTÉ radio’s News at One that infected air was the main cause of the transmission of the virus which made good ventilation “critically important.”

Indoor dining was going to be a major risk, she said, as one infected person in a room could result in a major infection.

The country was relying on the vaccination programme to combat Covid, but only half the population was vaccinated, which meant half the population was still at risk. The vaccine programme was not bulletproof, she added

More long-term planning was needed. Buildings needed to be future-proofed as there would be other viruses in the future. Modifications such as air filtration would be required and the technology was already available, it was a matter of using it.

Dr Hegarty warned that indoor dining would be a problem as many locations were not adequately ventilated, and there remained a risk by being “up close to people.”

“We have to work with how the virus transmits. Some of the rules on hospitality seem arbitrary,” she said. Rules such as the distance between tables and time limits were not recognised by the virus.

Every building could be made low risk, she said. “We need to adopt policies to make them safer.”

Antigen tests

On Sunday, it was reported that the Government is considering the use of antigen tests in the reopening of indoor hospitality.

Immunologist Professor Kingston Mills on Monday warned that antigen testing could be abused and advised that tests should be supervised.

Self-administered tests would not be appropriate as a means to avail of indoor dining, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

There was no way of verifying a negative antigen test result, he said. There was no way of knowing that the test had been carried out on a specific person’s saliva

“There are a lot of logistical hurdles to be cleared,” he said before antigen testing could be used for the hospitality sector.

Other EU countries were already using antigen testing or a digital cert system, but the details of how such a system could be implemented in Ireland had yet to be completed, he said.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Jack Lambert has said that Ireland is moving too slowly in making decisions about Covid 19.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show, Dr Lambert pointed out that the number of Covid cases continued to rise every day and that a decision had to be made about the reopening of the hospitality and travel industries.

To do that “everybody” had to be at the table making the decisions, he said. “If you don’t have everybody at the table, who is making these decisions?

“The politicians say that Nphet’s in charge and Nphet has a small remit, and there’s a whole complex decision-making process. I think we actually have to look at Covid as an emergency, and we actually have to be making decisions on a day-to-day basis, and pro-active decisions and make plans and give things a try.”

Talks about including antigen testing as a tool to re-open hospitality were too little, too late, he said.