The Government has effectively cancelled the summer for hospitality as it agreed to pause the return of indoor dining to an unspecified date.
Ministers have agreed to act on a “bleak” and “sobering” warning from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) who have effectively said a fourth wave is on the way.
There was deep annoyance within Cabinet as to how Nphet landed this problem on Government late last night.
“People were wildly pissed off,” one source said.
As a result, Taoiseach will announce “a plan to announce a plan” on July 19 as to how entry to pubs and restaurants could occur, subject to the Attorney General approving a scheme.
There will be an enforcement element, despite reservations from the Department of Justice as to how it could be implemented.
As a result, there is still no clarity when indoor dining will begin even for vaccinated people.
Ministers have been told that any move to make indoor hospitality the preserve of fully vaccinated people could be done on an advisory basis, but ministers have bristled at this idea over concerns about how this would be enforced, as well as the question of whether staff would have to be vaccinated.
In what was described as a “depressing” Cabinet meeting, there was recrimination toward Nphet, Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said: “A grenade was lobbed upon our desks.”
Mr Martin will announce that the government will pause the return of all indoor activity due to commence on July 5, but weddings of 50 can go ahead and there will be an increase in outdoor events to 200 people and 500 for larger venues.
It was also agreed that if you are fully vaccinated, there will be no limitations on the number of households who can gather indoors.
Ministers have described the modelling presented by Nphet as “very worrying” while some said they remain sceptical about its accuracy.
“Nphet threw the kitchen sink at us, and while they warned about schools, there is no chance of schools not going back,” said one source.
Advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) about allowing younger people to receive the AstraZeneca vaccines were accepted.
This now means that those aged between 18 and 49 years can get any vaccine.
The Delta variant could have a "significant impact" on the reopening of schools in September, Nphet has warned.
In a "stark" and "grim" letter sent to the Government on Monday night, Nphet has predicted that we could see up to 2,170 Covid-related deaths across July, August and September as the Delta variant spreads across the country.
The Government leaders met last night to discuss the 13-page letter ahead of a critical Cabinet meeting today.
In a hammer blow to the hospitality sector, Nphet has also recommended that the Government should "pause" the reopening of indoor dining and drinking until they can put a "robust" system in place to prove that people have either been vaccinated or have immunity.
Senior Government officials have been left angered and frustrated by the letter as they had been asking for guidance on the Delta variant for many weeks but had been assured that the situation was under control.
While Nphet does not stipulate exactly how the system for proof of immunity or vaccination would be rolled out, it is understood that the Government could consider adopting the digital green cert for admission to indoor restaurants and bars if they take this recommendation on board.
However, the public health experts maintain that outdoor gatherings remain safe and have said that a host of pilot concerts and sporting events can go ahead as planned.
In relation to the reopening of indoor dining, Adrian Cummins – the chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland – said that the group feels allowing just vaccinated customers into indoor dining would be “problematic” and “discriminatory”.
Citing other countries such as Denmark and Israel where a similar approach was taken, he said the plan wouldn’t be workable.
“It also raises a number of legal questions around the discriminatory nature of what the Government is pressing forward here under the Equal Status Act.”
Mr Cummins told RTÉ’sthat the group have a number of questions that it needs to be answered by the Government.
“This industry now has been knocked back a number of times,” he added.
Mr Cummins said that one of the first question that came up centred around vaccinated patrons being served by unvaccinated staff indoors.
“Our staff is critical. And we want to make sure that we protect our staff, and we've always done so, during this Covid pandemic.
“That means that now the Government needs to fast track any vaccination of staff, if this is what the government is going to plan.”
He highlighted how hotels are operating as normal, “with no new introduction of a vaccine certificate to gain access into it" adding that staff there are unvaccinated and there have been no Delta variant outbreaks.
Mr Cummins has called for an immediate meeting with both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, adding that there is anger and frustration across the industry.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has recommended to Government that the AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines can be administered to 18 to 40-year-olds.
Asked on Monday night about the NIAC recommendations, Mr Donnelly said: “It will be for all age groups for Janssen and AstraZeneca.” Previously, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Janssen jabs were recommended for over-50s only due to incidences of rare blood clotting being linked to the vaccines.
The Government wanted to see a change in advice so that surplus AstraZeneca vaccines arriving in the next few weeks can be used on younger age groups.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it would be “unfortunate” if hundreds of thousands of vaccines cannot be used.
He added that he would support sending the surplus vaccines to other countries.
“The advantage of being able to use those AZ and Janssen vaccines once we have them – and we’ll have them in a few weeks’ time – is that would allow us to protect more people, more quickly,” Mr Varadkar added.
“If the Delta wave is coming, that makes sense to me.
“It has to be balanced of course with the risk of the very rare blood clot.
“Bear in mind when it comes to Pfizer in young people there’s a very rare heart condition you can get too, so it’s not that any vaccine has no risks of side-effects. They both do.”
The gap between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is set to be cut in half to just four weeks.
The Government has agreed on the change after a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
The current gap is eight weeks, which is already down from 12.
The Government has cut the gap in order to make tens of thousands of people aged in their 60s eligible for their second jab sooner as the country battles against the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19.
It is expected the move will be announced by the Government on Tuesday when Taioiseach Micheál Martin addresses the nation on the possible changes to the July 5 reopening plan.
Mr Martin has previously promised that all people in the 60-69 age cohort will be fully vaccinated by July 19.
Over 4m doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered, said Professor Brian MacCraith, chairman of the High Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that almost 350,000 doses were given last week.
Mr Reid said that in four of the past seven days, 54,000 doses were administered.
“Almost 110,000 of these were second-dose AstraZeneca. Another strong week ahead based on supplies,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, the Department of Health announced that there have been 305 cases of Covid-19.
Forty-nine people are currently in hospital with the virus, with 16 in intensive care units.