THE GRADUAL reopening of society across Ireland could be delayed due to the emergence of the Delta variant of coronavirus, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has warned.
Pubs and restaurants are due to resume indoor service from July 5 under the current road map while weddings featuring up to 50 people are also set to resume.
Communions and confirmations are also set to restart next month while visitors from up to three other households will be allowed inside the home.
However, the Taoiseach has refused to rule out a delay of two to three weeks and says he “wouldn’t be afraid” to postpone plans if advice from the NPHET dictated it.
“Nothing can be guaranteed as of today, and I think there is growing concern in terms of the increased incidence of the Delta variant,” he told the Irish Independent:
“There’s been a consistency of approach in terms of our relationship with NPHET in recent times, by and large, overall.”
The warning comes just days after Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed concern over the growing number of Delta variant cases being recorded.
Speaking last Monday, he highlighted “a concerning increase” number of cases involving the Delta variant in Ireland.
“We estimate that Delta accounts for up to 20% of cases reported in the last week,” he said.
“We have also seen a number of outbreaks associated with this variant reported in the last week.
"This is similar to a pattern being seen in a number of other EU member states. In the UK, Delta has been the dominant strain of Covid-19 for a number of weeks and now they are beginning to experience a rise in hospitalisations.
"It is really important that people who are not fully vaccinated continue to follow all public health advice. This includes people who are waiting for their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"People should take a vaccine when it is offered to them and in the meantime, they should continue to avoid crowds, limit contacts, avoid meeting up indoors and work from home where possible."
Despite this downbeat prediction, Leo Varadkar struck a more upbeat tone in one recent interview, claiming everything was “still on track” to reopen in less than two weeks’ time.
“I think when it comes to the Delta variant, there is definitely reason for concern, not reason for panic at this stage,” he told reporters.
“We’re still on track to ease restrictions further on the 5th of July, but we won’t be able to make a final decision on that until next Thursday, when we see more data and we have the most up-to-date advice from NPHET.”
He added: “I think it’s important to understand that the Delta variant will become dominant in Ireland.
“That’s the way the biology works and as the number of Delta cases increases, the number of the other variants will go down.
“What we really want to see is what happens with the total number of cases and whether that impacts on hospitals in any way.
“In the UK it has been the dominant variant for weeks and weeks now, but they have been able to keep indoor dining open, there’s been a small increase in hospital cases.”
Varadkar went on to repeat the advice of Dr Holohan.
"It is really important that people who are not fully vaccinated continue to follow all public health advice. This includes people who are waiting for their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
"People should take a vaccine when it is offered to them and in the meantime they should continue to avoid crowds, limit contacts, avoid meeting up indoors and work from home where possible."