Ireland is “not in a position” to restore the Common Travel Area due to “real concerns” about the prevalence of the Indian variant in Britain, Leo Varadkar has said.
The Tanaiste said the Government would not be restoring the Common Travel Area following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
He also said there would be a phased return to international travel this summer, but warned it would not be the same as it was prior to the pandemic.
The Government will outline later on Friday a phased easing of international travel, along with plans for the reopening of hospitality this summer.
“The advice that we have – and we’re accepting this advice from Nphet – is that there are real concerns about the prevalence of the Indian variant in Britain,” Mr Varadkar told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme.
“It’s now the dominant variant in Britain – over 50% of cases appear to be this B1617 variant.
“That’s something we’re concerned about, and, for that reason, we’re not in a position to restore the Common Travel Area just yet.”
The Fine Gael leader confirmed all EU countries would be removed from the Government’s mandatory hotel quarantine list.
But Mr Varadkar added that mandatory hotel quarantining would continue for other red list countries.
“We’re buying into the European Digital Green system so there will be different set(s) of rules for EU countries versus non-EU countries, and there will still be countries that are on a danger list or a red list where the restrictions will be very tough,” he said.
“All EU countries are coming off the mandatory hotel quarantining list.
“It’s great that we’re going to see a return to international travel, but we’re going to try and do this as safely as possible and minimise risk.
“That, unfortunately, will create a degree of uncertainty for some people because you might book a trip somewhere for a country that’s not on a red list but it may be on the red list by the time you go there and there will be requirements around vaccines and testing.
“So, unfortunately, it is not going to be a return to international travel as we used to know it, at least not yet, but it is going to be a clear road map and a phased return to international travel.”
The Tanaiste also said that issues with the supply of Covid-19 vaccines were not so great that they would affect the Cabinet’s decision-making on Friday regarding the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
He said the Government now expected more than 70% of the adult population to have received at least one vaccine by the end of June.
“We now expect that by the end of July, 2.5 million people will be fully vaccinated, so that’s more than 60% of the adult population fully vaccinated by the end of July,” he said.
“So, we’re behind (on the rollout of the vaccine) because of factors outside of our control, but not so far behind that it would cause us to change our decisions today.”
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that while there will be a “significant reopening” of society in the next two months, he warned the public to be careful.
Speaking to the media as he left Cabinet, Mr Ryan told the PA News agency: “We still have to be careful, I’ll be honest.
“The risk is low to medium, that’s the way the health officials put it. That’s always in the back of my mind, you have to be careful.
“Every week there’s another 200,000 to 300,000 people getting their first vaccine or second vaccine, that will give us protection.
“But we still only have about half the adult population have got their first one and about 20% will have got their second one by the end of this week.
“That’s great but the higher that goes, the safer we are, so I’m still on the cautious side. It is a significant reopening, there’s no doubt about it.”
He said the Government has been assessing the threat posed by the Indian variant in recent days.
“We will set up a special group to look at it and to keep an eye on it. That’s the real risk – we have seen in the past that variants can change the picture, so we are going to have to be careful.
“What’s been very interesting is how stable it has been in the last three months, it’s been at that 400 level.
“The hospitalisations picked up last week but it has come back down again, and we have to keep an eye out on it.”
The Higher Education Minister, Simon Harris, said the Government wants to provide the public with “clarity” about the travel and hospitality sectors.
Mr Harris said: “We’ve made significant progress in relation to Covid-19. The vaccine programme is really delivering benefits along with the efforts everyone has made.
“Hopefully, later this evening, we can try and provide a degree of clarity for some of the trickiest sectors from a pubic health point of view.”
The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 met on Thursday night to discuss the latest advice on lifting lockdown restrictions from Nphet.
Nphet is understood to have advised that hotels could reopen on June 2, with outdoor hospitality, such as pubs and restaurants, able to resume on June 7.
June 7 would also see the return of gyms and cinemas, while the number of people allowed to gather at outdoor events next month would be 100, or up to 200 in larger venues.
The return of indoor dining and pubs would take place on July 5, under the Nphet advice.
Meanwhile, spectators were in line to return to sporting events.
Nphet had advised that crowds of up to 5,000 people or 25% of a venue’s capacity should be allowed, depending on which number was smaller.
A full Cabinet meeting was being held on Friday afternoon to sign off on the proposals ahead of a public announcement by Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Friday evening.
Plans to stage a series of trial events in June are among the measures being discussed by Government.
Under the proposals, fans may be being allowed at the Leinster v Dragons rugby match at the RDS on June 11.
On the same day, spectators may be permitted at the Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps game and the Cork City v Cabinteely fixture.
The return of live entertainment is also expected.
Culture Minister, Catherine Martin, has said pilot live gigs could take place from June across a range of genres from classical music to comedy and theatre.
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe