Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that indoor dining will not reopen next week as planned.
He said he was advised by health experts in “stark terms” that proceeding with reopening next Monday will lead to a great increase in the spread of the virus, increase hospital admissions, illness and death.
Mr Martin said that the safest way to proceed with a return to hospitality is to limit access to those who have been fully vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19.
“Over the course of the coming weeks, Government will work urgently with the relevant sectors to agree a practical and workable approach,” he added.
“The simple truth is that we are in a race between the variant and vaccines, and we want to do everything we possibly can to make sure that the vaccine wins.”
It is now expected the Government will develop a system to allow people to prove they have been vaccinated.
The plans were discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday morning after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recommended that such a regime must be put in place if the reopening is to proceed.
According to The Irish Times, the Cabinet has decided that a plan to bring this about is to be developed by July 19th.
This would coincide with the restart date for international travel under the EU digital Covid certificate.
However, Cabinet discussions on the latest public health advice descended into “a mess”, one senior source told The Irish Examiner.
The Cabinet did agree that other planned measures will go ahead on Monday, July 5th. This would see the number of people allowed at weddings rise to 50. Attendances at sports grounds will also increase to 200 or up to 500 at venues with a capacity of 5,000.
The postponement comes after Nphet shared its latest projections on the impact of the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant at the Cabinet’s sub-committee on Covid on Monday night, which continued until 1am.
Government sources described the projected scenarios as “grim” and “sobering”.
The worst-case scenario would potentially see almost 700,000 cases of Covid-19 over July, August and September, with as many as 2,170 deaths as the Delta variant becomes dominant. The most optimistic projection would see 81,000 cases and 165 deaths.
The Irish Times reports that the modelling estimated almost 13,000 hospital admissions over the three months, and more than 1,600 people in intensive care units should the most pessimistic scenario play out. One source told The Irish Times this would see hospitals “overrun”.
Leaving the late night Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday, Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the modelling was a lot worse than had been expected.
The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) Adrian Cummins said his members were angry and frustrated at the delay in the reopening of indoor dining.
Mr Cummins told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday that the proposal for indoor dining to be limited to the fully-vaccinated would be problematic, discriminatory and not workable.
“This industry has been knocked back a number of times. We need answers,” he said.
Mr Cummins pointed out that hotels had been offering indoor dining since June 2nd, operating with unvaccinated staff and there had not been any outbreaks of the Delta variant.
Indoor dining was already available across Europe, he said, and there had not been any rise in hospitalisation or deaths.
Describing Ireland as an outlier, he said the RAI would be seeking a meeting with the Government today to discuss the proposals. “There is anger and frustration in the industry,” he said.
The World Health Organisation's special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, expressed caution about using vaccination as a factor to decide if people should be allowed to dine indoors.
Dr Nabarro told Newstalk that the WHO is nervous about such an approach as it could lead to inequality.
“Whilst I understand people calling for the use of vaccine status to be something that determines whether or not people can get into a venue or country, I myself, in the current circumstances, am not so keen on that.
“Access to vaccines is so unequal in our world, and I don't want anything to happen that increases the inequalities. If you use vaccine status as a requirement for entry to something, you’re also blocking out an awful lot of people from having any chance of participating.”
‘Worst case’ scenario
Liam Fanning, a professor of immunovirology at University College Cork, called for a full independent analysis of the Nphet projections of Covid cases and deaths in the coming months.
Prof Fanning told Newstalk Breakfast that data from drug trials was independently scrutinised and he thought the “worst case” scenario data presented by Nphet should also be independently analysed.
“We don’t need smoke and mirrors, we need the data to be given to people who can fully validate it,” he said.
On Monday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ radio that it would be “very difficult” for the Government to go against advice that Nphet issues on the reopening and “very unlikely” it would do so. – Additional reporting: Press Association, Vivienne Clarke