Winter lockdown 'off the agenda' as plan to reopen society still on track

Winter lockdown 'off the agenda' as plan to reopen society still on track

While shopping and sport provide the most obvious signs of reopening, Micheál Martin is expected to announce similarly far-reaching  measures next week addressing the reopening of workplaces. Picture: Larry Cummins

A relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rule for vaccinated workers to allow a viable return to the office is to be announced in the Government's reopening plan next week.

Despite a continued rise in Covid-19 cases due to the Delta wave, several Government sources have insisted a winter lockdown is "the furthest thing" from the minds of ministers.

A move away from a restrictions model to a series of guidelines with an onus on personal responsibility will also be one of the central pillars of the plan.

As part of the reopening roadmap, which will lay out specific timelines as to when remaining restrictions will be eased, current emergency measures and powers are to be ceased, with guidelines on mask-wearing to remain in place.

It is understood that the plan will:

  • Prioritise the return of one-metre schoolchildren, teachers, college students, and campus staff in the coming weeks;
  • See an early return to the office for workers with changes to social distancing requirements;
  • Prioritise indoor sports and live music events in the early stages with gigs returning “well in advance of Christmas”;
  • Include the phased eradication of Covid-19 wage and business supports by next spring.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to meet tomorrow to finalise its recommendations for ministers.

Plans proceed despite surge in cases

Despite the peak of the Delta wave still ahead and hospitalisations increasing, ministers are expected to get the green light to proceed with the plan to end restrictions over time.

There are now 60 patients in intensive care with the virus, with a median age of 55, according to the latest Nphet figures. 

"Unfortunately, all of this indicates that we are still not at the peak of this wave of Covid-19 and that many people continue to experience severe illness due to Covid-19,” Dr Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer, said.

“Yes, numbers are increasing, but this was not unexpected. The vaccination has changed the landscape entirely,” one senior government figure told the Irish Examiner.

Suggestions had been made in recent days that “tensions” were re-emerging between political leaders and public health officials, but sources across Government are insisting no such tensions exist at present.

Government sources have said that, if anything, both Nphet and ministers are now confident that with the vaccination programme, any talk of a level 5 lockdown this winter is currently "off the agenda".

Nphet is expected to tell the Government that it should continue to vaccinate children where advice allows and to prioritise booster shots for the most vulnerable, starting with older people, people in care homes, and healthcare professionals.

Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, a great deal of encouragement was being taken within Government from comments by Prof Philip Nolan of Nphet on radio yesterday morning where he illustrated the value of the vaccine on case numbers.

“So, 19 out of 20 people that were admitted to ICU over the past several months had no vaccination or were partially vaccinated. The vast majority were eligible for vaccination. We’re seeing an increase in the number of younger people, people under 45, mostly with underlying conditions,” he said.

Ministers to consider 'anomalies' about live events

Following the Nphet meeting, the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 will meet on Friday, with the finer details to be concluded over the weekend ahead of a full Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will make his 16th national address from Government Buildings later that day to set out the plan.

Politically, the Government feels it now needs to address what was called the “anomalies” around the live entertainment sector which has been up in arms amid criticism of Arts Minister Catherine Martin’s failure to deliver any early improvement in their plight.

The arts and music sector had been angered over the weekend by scenes around the All-Ireland hurling final, which was attended by 40,000 people.

Gardaí have said a number of licensed premises were inspected around Croke Park following the All-Ireland hurling final, and some of the pubs were asked to close in the interest of public safety as social media footage showed fans on streets near the stadium in large numbers.

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