Plans to further reopen the country on July 5th will not be affected by the potential spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19, the Government expects.
Senior Cabinet figures confirmed the position to The Irish Times amid increasing concern over the variant, first identified in India, which is at least 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant.
Unlike previous reopening steps, plans for July 5th have a heavy focus on indoor activity.
The date is earmarked for the return of indoor hospitality, numbers attending larger indoor events to increase to 100, indoor exercise and sports activities to return and people permitted visitors from up to three other households.
Although the current incidence level of the Delta variant is much lower in the Republic than in the UK, it is expected to rise during the summer.
About a quarter of all new cases seen in Northern Ireland were of the Delta variant, the interim director of the North’s Public Health Agency, Dr Stephen Bergin has said.
'We are not at that stage'
Senior Government sources dismissed the suggestion the Delta variant would delay reopening in Ireland, after the lifting of remaining restrictions was delayed in England for four weeks over the variant.
One Minister said the UK was at the final stages of reopening, which included the reopening of nightclubs.
“We are not at that stage yet so you are not comparing apples to apples,” they said.
“We have the benefit in Ireland in that there is a shorter time period between the first and second dose of AstraZeneca, unlike the UK where they pushed out the period in order to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Senior Government sources said further reducing the gap between the first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Ireland would allow current reopening plans to lift restrictions to remain intact.
The State’s high-level vaccine taskforce met on Monday to discuss reducing the interval from 12 weeks to eight weeks and to discuss the administration of vaccines by pharmacists.
Sources said people who received their first dose of AstraZeneca, including those in their 60s, would begin receiving texts in the coming weeks informing them of earlier second doses than had been scheduled.
Reopening plans have also been bolstered by anticipated large deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines by the end of June. Large deliveries of Pfizer vaccines are also expected, with 317,000 due to arrive next week.
That will lead to nine weeks’ worth of vaccination being compressed into five, in what is a significant acceleration of the State programme.
An announcement is also expected this week about opening the vaccine registration portal to people in their 30s.
Covid-19 vaccines from both Pfizer and AstraZeneca remain “highly effective” in preventing hospital admission with the Delta variant, according to new data from Public Health England.
The Delta variant will form the basis of discussions at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting and will also be discussed by the National Public Health Emergency Team later this week.
The Cabinet is expected to decide to increase the self-isolation period for travellers from Britain from five to 10 days for partially vaccinated people. Fully vaccinated passengers will face no quarantine.
Meanwhile, visa-free travel between Ireland and 12 countries with variants of concern will be restored on Tuesday.
Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys will inform Cabinet she proposes to lift emergency visa requirements for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Suriname and Uruguay.