Tanaiste says delay to indoor dining ‘not inevitable'
A delay to the resumption of indoor dining at pubs and restaurants is “not inevitable”, the Tanaiste has said.
Leo Varadkar said a decision will not be made by Government until Tuesday on whether Covid-19 restrictions will be eased further on July 5 as planned.
The Fine Gael leader also said the decision will be made even if it does not receive updated advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) regarding the use of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, also known as Janssen, vaccines in younger people.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has brought forward the decision on whether to delay the next planned round of coronavirus relaxations, due to rising concerns over the Delta variant.
A final call on the return to indoor dining and drinking had initially been expected later in the week.
However, ministers have faced intensifying calls from bar and restaurant owners to urgently provide clarity.
They have made the point that they need to tell their staff whether or not they will be working on July 5.
Mr Varadkar said the hospitality industry had made a “very reasonable” request to bring the decision forward.
“They have to engage employees, people have to come off PUP, they have to order supplies. So they’ve asked us that we bring the decision forward so we’re going to do that,” he said.
“We will make a decision tomorrow.”
He said he had not yet seen the advice or modelling data from Nphet or the advice from Niac in relation to vaccinations.
He also said he can “see the case that’s being made” for a delay of a few weeks but if, for example, the evidence is that a short delay would only reduce the number of cases by 10% “that’s not an awful lot”.
“We’ll have to see all the advice, receive the presentations today and tomorrow and make a decision,” he added.
“The one thing though that I can say to everyone, citizens, suppliers, employees, what we want to avoid is having to go backwards.”
Asked whether a delay is inevitable or not that indoor dining at pubs and restaurants will be delayed Mr Varadkar said: “Not inevitable is correct.”
Earlier the Higher Education Minister Simon Harris confirmed the Government would make a decision on Tuesday about the further lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
Simon Harris said no matter what decision is reached, people will be able to do more in July than they can in June.
Mr Harris told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme it is “important” that a decision is made on Tuesday.
He said: “I’ve heard very clearly from, and a very reasonable request, from people, particularly working in the hospitality sector across the weekend, where they’ve been saying ‘At the very least, can you give us clarity and certainty as early as possible in the week?’
“The Taoiseach made it clear yesterday he wants that to happen, and I would expect the Cabinet now to be in a position to make the decision tomorrow.”
Asked whether indoor dining will be allowed to resume as envisioned on July 5, Mr Harris said: “I’m here today to try and end this speculation by saying we will have a decision tomorrow.”
Mr Harris warned that the Government has to be “really careful” that the country does not go “backwards”.
“We have to make sure that we do as the Taoiseach said, that once we open something that we keep it open,” he said.
“The only thing that would be worse than not opening would be to open for a short period of time to only get into this spiral of stop and start.”
He added: “Whatever decision we take tomorrow, we will be in a position to do more in the month of July than we have been in the month of June.
“It’s simply about sequencing.”
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) are meeting later today to consider the advice they will give the Government before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Niac has been asked to examine whether the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines should be given to people under the age of 50.
The two jabs are currently not given to younger adults in Ireland as a precautionary measure in response to rare incidences of blood clotting.
Mr Harris said: “We’re going to find ourselves in a very peculiar situation in this country where shortly we’ll end up with an excess supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and indeed in July potentially with an excess supply of the J&J vaccine, with no arms to put them in.”
He added that some three million doses of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are due to arrive in Ireland in the third quarter of the year.
“At the moment we don’t actually have people requiring them in the ages that they’re allowed to give them,” he said.
“So I think it does make sense to ask the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, as our chief medical officer has done in the context of these new variants and trying to stay ahead of them, should we now look at seeing if there’s benefits in administering those vaccines to younger people.”
Mr Harris told the programme that, even if the medical advice on vaccines for younger people does not change, he expects a “significant majority” of third-level students will have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine before they return to campuses in September.
“It looks like the vaccine programme for college-aged students would start in August with second doses in September,” he said.
The minister added that the return to third-level is “not dependent” on every student being vaccinated.
The Department of Health confirmed 305 more positive cases of Covid-19 in Ireland on Monday.
The latest figures show there are 49 people in hospital with the virus, including 16 in intensive care.