Schools, colleges and workplaces to reopen in next phase

Return of live entertainment likely to be slower as Government remains cautious

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The next phase of reopening, to be announced by the Government on August 31st, will prioritise schools, colleges and the return to workplaces, with live entertainment only expected to return on a phased basis during September and October.

A Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Thursday heard a number of briefings from public health chiefs and the HSE, and discussed concerns about the recent rise in Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions, with more than 100 people likely to be in ICU in the coming weeks.

The current wave of infections is not expected to peak until mid- to late September, sources said the meeting was told, adding that HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned against assuming that hospitals could tolerate “hundreds and hundreds” more cases.

Concern about the current wave of cases is likely to inform a cautious approach to the next phase of reopening, meaning that live entertainment will only return gradually. It is expected the schedule will follow the example of previous plans, with a gradual approach rolled out in stages throughout the autumn.

‘Under control’

“Anything we’ve reopened, we’ve kept open,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin told The Irish Times last night. “We’ve managed to keep Delta largely under control. . . The phased approach has worked so far.”

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
9,452,860 7,856,558

After Thursday’s sub-committee meeting, Ministers were resigned to the fact that the pandemic will “rumble on for months”, but are seeking clearer indications of the criteria for removing remaining restrictions. Some Ministers challenged the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to produce a firm target for vaccination levels when further lifting of measures would be allowed.

There is concern and frustration at the high levels of infection that persist despite ongoing restrictions and high levels of vaccination. Nphet told the meeting there were still significant proportions of younger people who are not fully vaccinated, giving the virus a breeding ground.

‘Blended approach’

A further 1,818 new cases of the virus were reported in the Republic on Thursday. There were 244 patients with the virus in hospital, with 52 of those in ICUs. A total of 12,348 new cases of the disease have been reported in the State in the last seven days. Government sources stressed that the reopening of schools and colleges will be the priority in September, with the reopening plan also likely to contain guidelines for the return to workplaces. Officials are due to meet trade unions next week to discuss the issue.

Mr Martin said on Thursday night it was likely the Government would recommend a “blended approach”, with employees mixing workplaces with home working.

There are other moves back to “normality” planned, with Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan advocating for 100 per cent capacities to resume on public transport.

It is also expected a plan for the rollout of booster vaccines will be finalised in the next 10 days, with those who are immune-compromised or suffering from underlying conditions first in line for booster shots. The operation of the vaccination centres is likely to be wound down over the autumn.

Senior Government and public health officials will work on the reopening plan next week, with meetings of Nphet and the Covid-19 sub-committee due to be held before the full Cabinet meets to approve the plan on August 31st.

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