Significant shortfalls in the supply of vaccines are not expected to affect the new schedule for the reopening of social and economic life, to be announced today.
The new schedule is expected to include details of reopening on July 5th of indoor hospitality for pubs and restaurants and the resumption of international travel from July 19th.
While the undersupply of promised vaccines, including potentially a big reduction in the expected numbers of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, will hit the pace of the vaccination programme in June, Ministers are expected to press ahead with the plan for reopening at a Cabinet meeting today.
The State’s public health team last night cleared the way for the expected easing of Covid-19 restrictions throughout the summer.
In a letter to Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) provided a broadly positive update and gave the green light for the return of indoor hospitality in restaurants and pubs from July 5th, the return of cinemas in June, indoor dining from July and the opening up of travel .
It is now expected that international travel will return from July 19th with Ministers having discussed on Thursday evening putting the EU travel green cert into operation from that date.
France, Belgium and Luxembourg are also due to be taken off the list for mandatory hotel quarantine, it is understood.
The team confirmed that, as planned, hotels could reopen on June 2nd and outdoor hospitality could reopen from June 7th.
However, last night the Restaurants Association of Ireland said it would be challenging the Government’s decision to reopen indoor dining in hotels on June 2nd ahead of restaurants, gastro pubs and cafes. It said the decision was “built on zero scientific or medical evidence” and that it would be challenging the “statutory instrument” next week.
From July, the numbers permitted at outdoor organised events can increase to a maximum of 100 attendees at the majority of venues, Nphet also recommended. This could rise to 200 for larger venues such as outdoor stadiums or other “fixed” outdoor venues with a minimum capacity of 5,000.
The number of guests permitted at a wedding reception will rise to 50 people indoors in July, which will then increase to 100 in August, under the Nphet recommendations.
Nphet is also understood to have recommended that up to 5,000 spectators can attend outdoor events in large stadiums such as Croke Park from August 2nd, while smaller outdoor venues would have a limit of 500 people. Indoor events in larger venues could have a capacity of 200. Smaller indoor venues would be limited to 100 people, it is understood.
The Cabinet will sign off today on the plan after the three party leaders meet this morning to finalise the measures discussed at last night’s Cabinet sub-committee.
There was disappointment in Government circles at the news there were new shortfalls in vaccine supply on the horizon. A potential massive undersupply of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will hit the vaccination programme especially hard.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said best-case scenario for deliveries of AstraZeneca in the coming weeks is half of what was expected, while the HSE does not know how many Johnson & Johnson vaccines it will receive. Mr Reid said the number varies from a worst case of 64,000 to a best case of 235,000. So far, 60,000 doses have been received, most of which have been administered.
Benefits of vaccination
Sources said last night that despite the news of further shortfalls in vaccine delivery in June, this would not affect on the pace of the reopening to be announced today. Ministers acknowledged the impact on the vaccination programme but stressed the benefits of the vaccinations. Dr Colm Henry of the HSE told a weekly briefing that the number of deaths had "collapsed" due to the vaccines.
Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar signalled that the reopening would proceed at pace when he told the Dáil: "The people have every reason to be hopeful about the summer ahead . . . We are ahead of ourselves in terms of where we thought we would be regarding hospitalisations and cases.
“For that reason, we can look forward to a very positive announcement on Friday regarding the reopening of society and economy and the phased return to international travel, events, etc,” he said.
About 2.6 million people have received a vaccine dose: 1.6 million first doses and 800,000 second doses. Between 304,000 and 314,000 people received a Covid-19 vaccine last week, and the target for this week is 260,000 to 280,000, Mr Reid said.