The Government is scrambling to find ways to stop the surge in Covid cases and hospitalisations while avoiding a return to strict restrictions on society.
Booster jabs for the over-60s and the continued use of Digital Covid Certificates for indoor hospitality are on the table as the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate.
The concern comes only a week before restrictions are due to ease on October 22. However, there are no plans to reimpose any restrictions that have already been lifted.
Some cabinet ministers believe the reopening of nightclubs might be postponed or require Covid certificates for entry. “I don’t think anyone will be up in arms if the reopening of nightclubs is delayed a few more weeks,” a senior minister said.
There will also be a push by some ministers to allow full attendance in sports stadiums and grounds as evidence to date shows major matches have not resulted in super-spreader events.
Recent testing and tracing showed three people who knew they were positive for Covid-19 did attend a football match, but there was no data showing this resulted in an outbreak of cases.
Ministers also believe opening hours for bars and restaurants should be extended as planned because the current restrictions, which require all premises to be closed by 11.30pm, are leading to crowding in city centres and anti-social behaviour.
Lobby groups for the hospitality industry have demanded clarity from the Government ahead of next Friday, when restrictions on opening hours and the need for Covid passes to dine indoors were due to come to an end.
However, there is concern in the Government about the impact of the rising number of Covid cases on the health service as winter approaches.
Yesterday, 1,627 new cases were recorded, with 415 people being treated in hospital and 70 of those in intensive care units. There was also a high number of patients on hospital trolleys.
Professor Philip Nolan, who is a member of Nphet, said leaving home with Covid-19 or flu-like symptoms should become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1, Prof Nolan said he was concerned the data on the virus is going in the wrong direction “quite suddenly”, but added that it is “not escalating out of control”.
However, he said: “Unvaccinated people are catching the disease, they are getting severe outcomes and spreading the disease, but the disease is also spreading subtly through the vaccinated population.
“Leaving your home with Covid-like or flu-like symptoms has to become socially unacceptable in the way that drink-driving has become socially unacceptable.”
Nphet will meet on Monday to prepare advice for the Government on removing the final Covid restrictions.
Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he is aware people are “fed up” of restrictions, but called on the public to “knuckle down” to help stop the spread of the virus.
“All of us collectively need to get back to the basics in terms of Covid-19, and those who are not vaccinated and those who have not completed their second dose, please go and get it,” the Taoiseach said.
Mr Martin said almost 92pc of adults are fully vaccinated. He welcomed the start of the booster vaccine campaign for older and vulnerable people to receive a top-up jab.
“But parallel with that, we’ve got to watch our behaviour,” he added.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated it is unlikely there will be a reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions from October 22.
He said there has been no consideration of going backwards and bringing back previous restrictions which have been removed.
The minister could not say whether nightclubs will be permitted to reopen next Friday as planned.
Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris confirmed the Government will consider whether to extend the use of vaccine passes past October 22
“I would think we should be asking more nuanced question of each other and of Government and of public health: how can you safely reopen something and keep it open?” he said.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland