Additional reporting by Vivienne Clark.
An announcement regarding the reopening of indoor dining, which had been due to take place on July 5th, is expected to be made on Tuesday, according to Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meet today.
Nphet will consider whether the next stage in the country's easing of restrictions should proceed next Monday, taking into account the incidence of Covid-19, the number of people in hospital with the virus, the progress of the vaccine rollout, and the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.
Today's meeting follows much speculation over the weekend that the reopening will be delayed for a number of weeks, however no formal decision will be made until Nphet issue their advice to Government after the meeting, at which time Ministers will decide what next steps will be taken.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Harris said it was important that the hospitality sector receive clarity, adding that requests from the industry on the matter have been very reasonable.
The Minister said he hoped it would be possible to give this clarity, adding that every week would buy extra time, as 300,000 people were being vaccinated per week.
The question for Government and public health experts was what would be the right balance between vaccinations and reopening.
“We can’t get that wrong,” Mr Harris said.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is also expected to meet today to consider the use of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J - also known as Janssen) vaccines for younger people.
Currently, the two vaccines are not recommended for use in people under 50 due to concerns regarding rare instances of blood clotting linked to the jabs.
Mr Harris said the country would shortly be in the position of having excess AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines “but no arms to put them in”.
Such a decision by Niac “may require a bit of work,” said Mr Harris, and he wanted the medical experts to give the best possible advice.
“We’ve had a very good reopening, we have to be careful we don’t go backwards,” he added.
Mr Harris said that even if younger people did not receive the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines, he still anticipated that the “significant majority” of college students would be vaccinated by September.
However, he also pointed out that the reopening of colleges was not contingent on everyone being vaccinated.
Mr Harris said that if the vaccination programme for young people could utilise the three million doses due to be delivered shortly, it would have knock on effects.
“It does make sense to ask Niac should we now look at the benefits,” Mr Harris said, adding that he hopes the group will issue their recommendations this week.