Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that he does not expect hospitality businesses to be permitted to reopen before mid-summer.
Talking to RTÉ's Raidió na Gaeltachta, the taoiseach said, "While I am happy that we are making progress with the vaccination programme, any easing of the restrictions has to be slow and cautious because of the threat from new variants of [COVID-19].
"These variants are our biggest concern for managing the disease in the immediate future."
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Martin stated that he does not foresee the hospitality sector reopening until the middle of the summer at the earliest, and said, "What the public health authorities are saying is that we stick with this until end of April, then we reflect on the situation and make decisions about the months ahead."
Pursuing A Prolonged Suppression Of COVID-19
The taoiseach also told reporters in Dublin that the government's primary focus at present is reopening schools, particularly for early year classes, and the government is pursuing a very prolonged suppression of COVID-19, and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) wants to monitor each step of reopening businesses.
Martin added that there will not be a large-scale reopening of construction, and that reopenings will depend on the progression of COVID-19 as well as the progress of the vaccination programme.
Rte.ie quotes Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) CEO Adrian Cummins as saying in response to the above statements by the taoiseach, "The government now needs to increase the level of business supports for all hospitality businesses in order for the survival of the sector and remain ready to reemploy hundreds of thousands of tourism and hospitality workers currently on the PUP [Pandemic Unemployment Payment] payment.
"The government now needs to set out clearly what level/percentage of the population that will be required to be vaccinated in order to fully reopen all hospitality businesses.
"Finally, the government needs to clarify if mid-summer for reopening is the start of June or the start of July as businesses will need to plan for reopening when public health allows."
Meanwhile, Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane stated, "We are calling for an urgent review of the existing supports for the tourism and hospitality sector. If the all important summer period is being eroded, additional supports are now required to safeguard businesses and the livelihoods they support until society reopens and the sector and wider tourism industry can recover. We also ask the government to intervene with the banks to ensure they have appropriate supports and engagement processes in place for our businesses and team members until COVID-19 has been suppressed."
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