Nphet will meet today, but it is unlikely to call for immediate new restrictions
New limits on the number of people permitted to sit at tables indoors, caps on household visits and a reduction in capacity at live music venues are among the measures being discussed by the Government as it struggles to get the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic under control.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet today, but it is not expected to recommend significant new restrictions.
However, the group is expected to advise that mask- wearing should increase, especially among people who are attending large or crowded events.
Nphet is also considering whether children should wear masks in primary schools, but it is unclear if it will recommend this proposal.
Any significant recommendations on restrictions, if necessary, will be made next Thursday, December 2.
The Government does not want to impose major restrictions in the busy Christmas period, but is open to introducing small changes that will reduce people congregating in large numbers in what is a traditionally busy time for socialising.
Senior government sources said changes to hospitality guidelines may be needed, along with new advice on household visits. They want to encourage people to reduce their interactions while the virus is still spreading rapidly in the community.
However, if the situation stabilises and pressure is taken off the hospital system further, restrictions may not be needed.
Yesterday, in its latest guidance for EU countries, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) suggested setting limits for the number of participants in social and public events during end-of-year celebrations will support physical distancing efforts.
It said even in countries with high vaccine uptake, measures such as social distancing, face masks and working from home remain vital to reduce transmission.
It said the “appropriate use of face masks, teleworking and operational modifications that reduce crowding on public transport, along with ensuring adequate ventilation in closed spaces and maintenance of hygiene measures” could be implemented immediately.
The ECDC said restrictions may be needed for some time after the Christmas and New Year period to “adequately complement vaccination protection”.
Meanwhile, Siptu has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan calling for a reduction in passenger capacity on public transport in order to protect workers and the public from an increased risk of Covid-19 infection.
“Siptu representatives fully accept that public transport must continue – but passenger capacity must be reduced so our members can work, and passengers can travel, in the safest possible way,” Siptu organiser John Murphy said.
Speaking at an Oireachtas arts and culture committee meeting, Culture Minister Catherine Martin said there is currently “no ambition” for further restrictions. However she said she was not able to give a “definitive response” as to whether theatres, arts venues, museums and galleries may be closed down again.
She added that the Government will not be “found wanting” in relation to Covid supports for businesses.
Ms Martin said that so far, the Government has spent €8.9bn on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and a “similar” amount on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS).
Meanwhile, addressing the Fine Gael parliamentary party yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he expects children aged between five and 11 to be offered Covid vaccines in the future.
He said the current wave of the virus is plateauing, but at a high level.
While the trajectory of the virus is uncertain, he said the Government is doing everything possible to avoid a lockdown.
The Fine Gael leader said he expects a subsidised scheme for antigen tests to be agreed by the Cabinet next week.
Addressing the Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath will meet with the hospitality industry after the party passed a motion calling for the meeting to take place.
Fianna Fáil also voted in favour of implementing more financial supports for the sector, including continuing the waiver on commercial rates, retaining the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and revamping the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme.
Senators Ollie Crowe and Pat Casey and TD John Lahart brought the motion to the meeting.
It is understood there was unanimous support.