Next week’s reopening of indoor hospitality services was thrown into huge doubt on Monday night amid “grim” projections on the spread of Covid-19 if highly transmissible variants are aided by increased social mixing.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) modelling, described by Government sources as “grim” and “sobering”, came as the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Covid-19 met late on Monday night to consider its recommendations and potential delays to reopening of indoor pubs and restaurants.
The worst-case scenario would potentially see almost 700,000 cases of the virus over July, August and September, with as many as 2,170 deaths as the Delta variant becomes dominant. The most optimistic projection would see 81,000 cases and 165 deaths.
There is an expectation that Nphet will seek a delay of several weeks in reopening indoor hospitality.
The Irish Times understands the modelling estimates almost 13,000 hospital admissions over the three months, and more than 1,600 people in intensive care units (ICU) should the most pessimistic scenario play out. One source said this would see hospitals “overrun”.
The most benign scenario would see just over 1,500 admissions and 195 people in ICUs.
While the modelling was being viewed with concern in Government circles tonight, there was some solace in a separate recommendation by the Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) that said that AstraZeneca and Jannsen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines could be used for the under-40s.
It has also said that the gap between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine can be cut in half from eight to four weeks.
This would allow an acceleration of the vaccine rollout to younger age groups that had been previously restricted to alternative vaccines due to AstraZeneca and Jannsen being linked to rare blood clots.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has already asked the HSE to put the recommendation into operation.
Nphet met on Monday to discuss the current Covid situation ahead of delivering advice to Government. The Cabinet will meet on Tuesday to make a final decision.
In recent days it has been widely expected in Government that a postponement is on the cards due to concern over the Delta variant, with two weeks thought to be the likely period.
That would allow for people in their 60s to have their vaccinations completed as well as coinciding with the planned reopening of non-essential international travel on July 19th.
However, the modelling on the potential impact of the Delta variant combined with increased social mixing has led to an expectation that Nphet will advise a postponement of several weeks.
Earlier on Monday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ Radio that it would be “very difficult” for the Government to go against advice that Nphet issues on the reopening and “very unlikely” it will do so.
The Government has been under pressure from the hospitality industry to decide on the reopening as restaurants and pubs are left with massive uncertainty over whether to order stock or bring back staff.
There have also been calls from Government TDs and Senators for the reopening to proceed from next Monday.
The Cabinet separately held an incorporeal meetingon Monday to approve proposed legislation to allow outdoor drinking in seated areas authorised by local authorities or outdoor spaces privately owned by pubs.
It came after a statement from the Garda just over a week ago that said the serving of alcohol in such outdoor areas was illegal.
The proposed law to provide for it will be put before the Dáil on Wednesday with a view to being passed by the Oireachtas by the end of the week.