By James Ward, PA
The Government must provide “as much certainty as possible” on plans to reopen the country over the summer, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said.
The Cabinet is due to meet next week to sign off on a road map for reopening for May, June and July.
Retail, personal services, construction, hospitality and increased outdoor activities have all been flagged to return, and Mr Harris said businesses must be given a clear indication of the plan to allow them to prepare.
COVID-19 Vaccination Programme update:
140k doses administered in the seven days to Saturday. pic.twitter.com/7TuaDHwQ21
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) April 19, 2021
Mr Harris has also said he wants to see a “significant increase in on-campus attendance” in the next academic year, saying the current situation is neither “sustainable, tenable or desirable”.
Mr Harris said: “I think we should be able to provide detail on what May, June and July will look like. That’s certainly my preference.
“I’m not going to overly speculate on what that means for each sector.
“What I would say to all sectors is, I think there’s an onus on Government to provide you with as much certainty as possible next week.
“If this week continues the way the last couple have, we will be able to meet as a Cabinet next week in a better position on Covid than we have been in many, many months.
“I feel more hopeful and positive about Covid-19 and the position we’re in as a country than I have in a very, very long time.
“And therefore I think we should use that momentum next week to try and create as detailed a road map as possible.”
While the return of retail and personal services such as barbers and hairdressers have been well flagged, he said the Government should also provide detail on outdoor dining next week.
He told a press conference on Monday: “I do think the evidence around outdoor activities and how they can be done safely, perhaps gives hope that we could do a little bit more in the outdoor space.”
“We’re going to see things like golf and tennis and kids training come back later this month. Is there a possibility to expand a little bit more on that?” he added.
“Things like outdoor dining and the like, I’m not in a position to give a definitive view on, but I think we need to start answering those questions next week.”
Mr Harris said discussions were held on Friday about how to facilitate “a very significant increase in on-campus attendance”.
“I don’t think the current situation is sustainable, tenable or desirable for another academic year” he said.
Increased funding for safety equipment, the vaccination programme and a rapid testing scheme would be the three key tools in reopening universities, he said.
Mr Harris has also defended Stephen Donnelly, insisting the Cabinet “stands four-square behind” the embattled health minister.
#COVIDVaccine registration is open for people aged 65 to 69. The quickest & easiest way to register is online. You'll need your PPSN, Eircode, mobile phone number & email address. Don't worry if you can't register today, registration will stay open➡️https://t.co/nTNxEKexNZ pic.twitter.com/cnDU19Zx2A
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) April 19, 2021
Mr Donnelly has been accused of sowing confusion in relation to the vaccine rollout, by suggesting those in the 18-30 cohort could be bumped up the priority list, before quickly making a U-turn.
“I hope you’ve heard clearly from the Government, from the Taoiseach down over the weekend, that the vaccine programme and the order remains unchanged,” Mr Harris said.
He added: “The Cabinet stands four-square behind the minister for health.
“He has an extraordinarily difficult job, and it’s now a matter of everyone getting on and doing the job and getting as many jabs into arms as possible.”
Mr Harris said the Government will receive advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on whether there is a case for increasing the time period between administering the first dose and a second dose.
The approach has been adopted in the UK and it is hoped that it could speed up the vaccine rollout, while still providing significant protection from Covid-19.