A delay to the return of indoor hospitality is looking increasingly likely, as Government and official sources indicated the full return of pubs and restaurants will be pushed back from the planned date of July 5th.
However, sources told The Irish Times that there are also concerns at senior levels of Government that a delay may lead to further extensions, with the next window for more reopening as late as autumn.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is currently working on advice to be presented to Government next week.
It is believed the more transmissible Delta variant will account for more than half of infections by the middle of July, and 90 per cent in early August.
A well-placed source said it was “highly likely” that Nphet will recommend an extension beyond July 5th, however, the source also said there is still a chance the group will recommend reopening as planned, particularly if modelling indicates continued low hospitalisation levels.
Sources indicated that it was unlikely an additional delay would be needed even if this one is accepted.
Government sources told The Irish Times that lifting of measures could be phased through July if the return of indoor dining is delayed, meaning a date later in the month while other measures would be lifted as planned.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said the plan is still to reopen travel on July 19th. “There is strength in following a common [EU] approach,” he said.
Any delay would place pressure on the vaccine rollout to continue at its current pace. On Thursday, The Health Service Executive said about 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in the State in August.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has written to the National Immunisation Advisory Committe (Niac) to ask whether the AstraZeneca vaccine can be given to younger age groups (it is currently limited to over-50s).
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said: “None of us want a situation where we have a stock here that we’re not utilising and we don’t have people vaccinated. So that’s a situation we’d all like to avoid, certainly from a HSE perspective.”
While the vaccination programme is helping to curb the spread of coronavirus, Mr Reid said the State is at a “point of unease and apprehension as to what might happen next”.
The Taoiseach has said he “cannot speculate” right now about whether Covid-19 restrictions will be eased as planned next month.
Micheál Martin said the Government had managed to reopen the economy in a “cautious but a progressive way” and that many people do not want that progress jeopardised.
The Fianna Fáil leader made the comments in a television interview with Virgin Media One marking his first year in office as Taoiseach.
Mr Martin said: “I can’t speculate right now, today, in relation to this, other than [to say] it is an area of concern to the chief medical officer, to everybody, to myself included.
“But I just want to make the point that so far, we have managed to reopen society in a cautious but a progressive way, and a lot of people are satisfied and relatively happy with the manner in which that’s happened.
“They don’t want that jeopardised or undermined in any way either, and anything we open we want to keep open. We don’t want to be going back.
“That’s the important principles that has to inform any decisions in light of any advice we might receive from the Chief Medical Officer and from Nphet, who have to do some modelling of this Delta variant.”