Confidential Cabinet memo reveals foreign travel and large gatherings are next priorities

Confidential Cabinet memo reveals foreign travel and large gatherings are next priorities

People using face masks attend a music concert in Barcelona, Spain.

Fully reopening the hospitality sector, including nightclubs, and allowing mass gatherings and international travel are the next priorities for the Government, a confidential Cabinet memo reveals.

Four main categories identified by ministers have been described as “too high-risk” to be implemented in May or June, but are now likely in July.

Micheál Martin has said foreign travel and indoor hospitality will be possible before August. While indoor gatherings constitute what Nphet calls a “high-risk activity”, the Taoiseach hopes pubs and restaurants can fully reopen within three months. On international travel, he said most of Europe will have a similar vaccination rate, so holidays abroad will also be possible by July.

'Clear signal from a normally cautious Taoiseach' 

Speaking last night, several ministers from across the Coalition said such a clear signal from the normally “hyper-cautious” Taoiseach is a strong indication that it will happen.

According to the memorandum approved by ministers, the four main priorities identified for a decision by the end of June are:

  • Indoor hospitality (restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos);
  • Indoor team/group sports, including matches, training, and exercise classes;
  • Mass gatherings/events (including spectators), both indoors and outdoors;
  • International travel.

Warning about waning compliance  

However, despite the upbeat mood, the Cabinet has been warned that self-reported compliance with public health guidelines has fallen rapidly since a peak in late January, and is now at its lowest level since July 2020.

The fall in compliance comes amid a strong warning from chief medical officer Tony Holohan that Donegal needs to “turn around” its high Covid-19 infection rate or face another localised lockdown.

'Dogs in the street' know cause of Donegal spike

The incidence rate in Donegal is 293.4 per 100,000 population, more than double the national average.

Dr Holohan said the actions driving the high rates in Donegal are those that “even the dogs on the street” know should not be happening.

“It’s safe to say that if we had anything like the situation that pertains in Donegal pertaining to the rest of the country, we would not be recommending these [reopening] measures.,” he said. "We are genuinely concerned about the situation."

As well as Donegal, there are concerns about high case numbers in north Dublin and Kildare.

'Dry run' for international travel

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Ireland’s common travel area (CTA) with the UK could be used as a “dry run” for the EU’s digital green certificate for foreign travel this summer. The idea was floated by Leo Varadkar, and Cabinet sources say that while no formal proposal has been made, the idea is one that “will be looked at”.

One source said it “is definitely something that could have legs” and the nature of the soft border on the island meant that people from the North and Britain will be in Ireland during the summer.

Micheál Martin said Ireland will be “full participants” in the EU green passport scheme currently being drawn up, saying the country “could not disconnect itself forever”: 

We have to assess all the risks as we move forward. Travel resuming towards the latter half of July is a possibility. 

The Cabinet memorandum also reveals that the unwinding of the pandemic unemployment payment and other wage supports, which have cost €13.5bn so far, will be discussed at the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment on May 6.

As revealed by the Irish Examiner two weeks ago, the Government is expecting that office staff will not return to their workplaces until September, when a large majority of adults have been vaccinated.

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