Vaccine rollout has offered protection required to reopen, says taoiseach
The success of the Republic's vaccination programme has given the country “protection” to open up, government ministers said as public transport returned to full capacity.
Plans to ease the majority of remaining Covid-19 restrictions were outlined by ministers yesterday.
Today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the phased reopening – with the vast majority of restrictions set to be eased across September and October – is possible because of the high uptake of the vaccines.
Mr Martin confirmed the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) – which has advised the Government since the start of the pandemic – will be phased out and eventually not exist as a separate body.
“You need to transition the structures you have into the normal structure of Government,” he said.
He said Nphet will be streamlined into existing government and Department of Health structures, while the country’s vaccination taskforce will be integrated into the HSE.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly earlier said there is no specific measure or statistic that would cause the government to pause or reverse the easing of restrictions.
Mr Donnelly also said he hopes there will be no return to lockdown – but he acknowledged the next stage of the pandemic is unpredictable.
He said: “There’s one thing we know about this virus though. It has torn up global plans many times.
“The two big concerns I have are the rates on the variant we’re dealing with right now and I’m particularly conscious of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now. And secondly, a new variant and because of that it’s impossible to be 100% certain.”
The health minister said the government will be monitoring the data on outbreaks in schools and colleges, as well as the numbers of people admitted to hospital and in intensive care.
Looking at data “in the round” will allow the government to decide whether reopening needs to be paused or delayed, he said.
Mr Donnelly said the return to full capacity public transport is not “about the science” and is not a “public health recommendation”.
He added: “It’s something that (transport) minister (Eamon) Ryan was very keen could be facilitated. We do want to get people moving around the country. The current restrictions had been putting a lot of pressure on public transport.”
Asked about the potential return of busy public transport on radio on Wednesday morning, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said he believes it will be some time before buses and trains are full.
“In order to get up to 100% to approach that capacity, I believe that is going to take time to get to that point,” he said.
Mr Donohoe told RTÉ radio that the advice the government received from the National Public Health Emergency Team “did not cover” public transport.
But he said the decision to return to full capacity is necessitated by the return of schools and the phased reopening of offices.
“We are aware of the risks, that’s why this is being done on a phased basis,” Mr Donohoe said.
Meanwhile Mr Donnelly told RTÉ it is “unlikely” that capacity at Croke Park will be significantly increased for the GAA All-Ireland football final on September 11.
This afternoon, the GAA confirmed there will be a 50% capacity at the final.
It follows an easing of restrictions on outdoor events, announced by the government yesterday, that means outdoor events can run at 75% of capacity, for vaccinated individuals.
The GAA said: “With approximately half of our tickets already distributed and unrealistic logistical challenges around processing Covid passports on a match day for a crowd in excess of 41,150 coming from all over the country and abroad, it was decided to proceed on the basis of a 50% attendance.”
It said there will be an additional 1,150 tickets available for fans.
Health officials expect the Republic to reach the peak of the current wave of Covid-19 in mid to late September.
HSE chief Paul Reid tweeted on Wednesday morning: “Everyone has made sacrifices to protect our health service. We appreciate it. Covid hasn’t been eliminated and if we can live our lives with caution, we can ensure society and the economy moves on.”