The Irish Times view on indoor dining: Government must still be cautious

If it appears that the Delta variant might endanger plans to reopen schools as normal in September, the Government will have to be prepared to change course

The hospitality industry expects that up to a quarter of establishments will remain closed for the time being or continue to serve in outdoor areas only, while indoor seating will be available only to those who can show proof that they have been fully vaccinated. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The hospitality industry expects that up to a quarter of establishments will remain closed for the time being or continue to serve in outdoor areas only, while indoor seating will be available only to those who can show proof that they have been fully vaccinated. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

Pubs and restaurants will reopen their indoor spaces for customers on Monday after what they hope will be the last extended closure of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be a partial reopening; the hospitality industry expects that up to a quarter of establishments will remain closed for the time being or continue to serve in outdoor areas only, while indoor seating will be available only to those who can show proof that they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Those requirements have dismayed the industry, as have a number of other conditions, such as the stipulation that, for contact-tracing purposes, each adult in a group will have to provide their details on arrival. But as a compromise this limited reopening was the least worst outcome once public health officials had advised the Government to be cautious in light of the rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant this summer.

Thanks to the success of the national vaccination programme, the number of people who are eligible to dine indoors is large and increasing rapidly every day. Almost 70 per cent of adults are now fully vaccinated and 83 per cent have had one dose, Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid said on Sunday. On one day last week, some 90,000 vaccines were administered in the State in a single day.

That progress gives the country some space to ease restrictions. But the crisis is far from over, and things could yet worsen before they improve. The Delta variant now accounts for 90 per cent of infections on the island. As a result, the infection rate has risen sharply, with the daily case numbers now well over 1,000. In Northern Ireland, the numbers are considerably higher.

The protection vaccines provide has so far kept hospital and ICU admissions down, but they are creeping up nonetheless and will have to be monitored closely. A second but no less important consideration is that the more the virus circulates, here and elsewhere, the higher the danger that new, vaccine-resistant variants will emerge.

The Government hopes that infections will peak at some point in the coming weeks, as appears to have happened in Scotland, and that wide public immunity will then bend the curve downwards. It’s too early to know whether that is likely. In the meantime, caution is essential.

For the public, that means taking all standard precautions. For the Government, it means maintaining test-and-trace capacity and the momentum of the vaccination campaign, and showing agility in responding to changes in the epidemiological situation. It means keeping the reopening of hospitality under constant review. If it appears that the Delta variant might endanger plans to reopen schools as normal in September, the Government will have to be prepared to change course.

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