The Government has said a mid-July reopening of indoor hospitality might be possible if new data from the UK indicates lower hospitalisation and death rates from the Delta variant of Covid-19 than predicted by National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) modelling.
In a meeting with industry representatives on Wednesday afternoon, the Government delegation led by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, told representatives of the hospitality industry they were expecting new data from the UK on deaths and hospitalisations associated with the highly transmissible variant.
If they are lower than the Nphet modelling – which predicted nearly 700,000 cases and 2,000 deaths by winter under a worst-case scenario – then an earlier return to indoor dining and drinking that currently envisaged could occur.
A date as early as July 19th was mentioned at the meeting, according to sources who are familiar with its discussions.
It is also understood that publicans and restaurant groups were told that the vaccine certificate for indoor dining may never be needed, but that the Government feels it would be useful to develop it in case the Delta variant has a more detrimental impact than expected.
Sources say that all groups spoke out against requiring certificates for indoor socialising, and that the practical difficulties were explained to the Ministers present.
This included fears about how an establishment would police any such system, and how confrontation would be handled at a time when some establishments have encountered difficulties in managing pandemic-related anger.
The various groups were told that a small working group will be established by next week.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland said it will engage with the working group to “save the remainder of the summer”.
"The Restaurants Association of Ireland engaged in a full and frank discussion with An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Ministers Catherine Martin and Stephen Donnelly at the Hospitality Forum this afternoon.
“The anger and frustration of the sector at no plan and no date was communicated.
“A Working Group has now been established and will begin work on a plan to get restaurants, cafes and gastropubs open for indoor dining as soon as possible.
“A fair and workable solution needs to be devised to ensure that there is a final plan announced for reopening restaurants, cafes and gastropubs on 19th July.”
It is understood that the Licensed Vintners Association, the Vinters Federation of Ireland and the RAI “pushed back heavily” on the vaccine certs as being “completely unworkable and unfair”, sources said.
The LVA is understood to have said that if the Government implements that system they will “really see what chaos in the hospitality sector looks like.”
They also called on hospitality workers to be prioritised for vaccines and for a tangible process for getting back open, as well as a firm date.
The modelling used by Nphet on dramatic increases of case numbers and deaths from the Delta variant did not take into account this week’s decision that vaccines will be made available to those aged 18 to 29, according to the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.
Dr Holohan met the leaders, or health spokespeople, of opposition parties and groups on Wednesday afternoon to brief them on the data and evidence underlying Nphet’s decision to recommend delaying the reopening of indoor dining and drinking.
Dr Holohan said the modelling that predicted 2,000 deaths under a worst-case scenario did not include the decision on Monday by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to make AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines available to 18 to 29 year olds.
Dr Holohan told the politicians that an independent peer review was to be carried out of Nphet’s modelling.
The CMO outlined the advice given to the Government on Monday in relation to the impact the Delta variant might have on Ireland. Under the most benign scenario there would be 81,000 cases by the autumn, with 1,500 hospitalisations and 250 deaths. In the most pessimistic forecast, the death rate could rise to 2,000.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said that the absence of the Niac data in the modelling presented to the Government on Tuesday was a “game changer”.
“If the vaccine is available to that age cohort, it will mean in two weeks’ time we will move from 50 per cent fully vaccinated, and 70 per cent partly vaccinated, to 55 per cent fully vaccinated and 75 per cent fully vaccinated,” Mr Kelly said after the meeting.
“Every week counts. The modelling needs to be redone to take into account the projections that include for vaccination rollout for 18 to 29, who are the cohort in which the Delta variant is spreading the most. That will really change the picture.”
Dr Holohan told the meeting that while outdoor measures could continue as normal, it was Nphet’s view that now was not the right time to reopen indoor dining and hospitality .
A figure of 80 per cent fully vaccinated was mentioned as the target, which could take many months. In the meantime the recommendation was for only the fully vaccinated to be allowed indoor dining.
Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said the data was clear and political parties had to take on board the advice. He said, however, that the Government had been aware of the risk associated with the Delta variant for some time.
“Why was more planning not done by the Government in the run-up to this announcement on Tuesday?” he asked.
Mr Holohan was asked questions about unvaccinated younger people working indoors in the hospitality industry. He replied the fact they were servicing vaccinated people and were wearing masks and PPE, and using social distancing and hygiene protocols, substantially reduced the risk of infection.